(Last spring we had the pleasure of premiering a song from the fantastic new album by Pennsylvania-based Cultic, a duo consisting of Rebecca and Brian Magar (who have recently expanded into a trio), and now we have the pleasure of presenting Comrade Aleks‘ very informative interview with Brian.)
Cultic is a York-based death-doom duet with a recognizable primordial sound and a dark fantasy concept behind both of their albums. They started as a trio in 2017: Brian Magar (bass, vocals, guitars), Rebecca Magar (drums), and Reese Harlacker (bass) recorded their demo Prowler back then. The full-length album High Command was released by Eleventh Key in 2019, and their most up-to-date album is Of Fire and Sorcery, which saw the light of day in April 2022 with the help of the very same label.
One of Cultic features is grim, absolutely eerie synths which work perfectly with low, distorted riffs and Brian’s raw vocals. High Command offered a plenty of it and Of Fire and Sorcery grants even more! Surely it’s worthy of listening, as this interview with Brian Magar is worth reading.
Hello Brian! How are you? What’s going on in the band’s lair?
Heeeeeeyyyyyyy!!!!! Well. Andrew Harris from one of our favorite modern proto-metal bands, Alms, has joined Cultic. That’s exciting. We’re also working hard on a new EP and gearing up to play Shadow Woods Metal Fest reunion show on September 23rd.
It looks like you’re really busy! Why did you choose to record an EP now, with your second album Of Fire and Sorcery released not so long ago… Wait… Damn, it was April! Time flies, but anyway – do you already have enough material for this new release? How much will it differ from the album?
It will be a mini-EP (two songs, two synth pieces, and maybe a few demo tracks for the CD version). I’d like to do a limited edition 7-inch lathe cut record – we’ll see. We initially recorded the first half of the EP over two years ago. The second half should be finished by November 2022.
The first song on the EP was written before Of Fire and Sorcery. It has a slightly different sound in the respect that I do some higher thrash-metal inspired vocal parts and there’s clean female vocals all over it, but the overall aesthetic is the same.
Your music is built from several elements, like a death-doom foundation, eerie synths, lo-fi delivery, and some old school aesthetic… What were your primary influences?
Speaking to our overarching tone, I’d say Hellhammer, Celtic Frost, Winter and later Darkthrone. With that said, I was actually listening to a lot of Root’s Zjeveni, Manilla Road’s Necropolis, Black Sabbath’s Born Again, Hexenbrett’s Erste Beschworung, and every Bon Scott-era AC/DC album, during the making of Of Fire and Sorcery.
The band was founded five years ago, and you already have two albums, a good result. How far did you go from those original ideas you wanted to put in your first demo Prowler back in 2017?
We haven’t wavered at all as far as the aesthetics, ideas, and themes found in Prowler. We’re getting better as a band and we’ll change our sound up a bit on every album, but I think you’ll always be able to tell that our music is undeniably Cultic.
Cultic is based in York, The White Rose City, right? How much of it is in your band? Does your surrounding influence you as well?
Yes, and neighboring Lancaster is the Red Rose City. It’s like a War of the Roses thing in Central Pennsylvania. It’s weird.
Are we influenced by the city? Probably not the city itself, but we’re definitely in strict opposition to York’s abundant conservatism. I will say this… For being such a small place, there is a deep and diverse pool of creative types here.
Hell yeah! As far as heavy music goes, the band SPELLBOOK ( Cruz Del Sur ) are from here. I just produced a music video for them for “The Witch of Ridley Creek”. Check it out!!! They’re a great dark, rock and roll band. SADISTIC VISION are from a neighboring town in York County. They’re an old school death metal band originally from New Orleans. There are two young sludge/crust bands, SLUMLORD and FLESH TERROR, that are tearing things up in the local underground scene here. SLUMLORD’s guitarist also plays for death metal rippers, VERMINOTH.
WRATH OF TYPHON (Lost Apparition Records) are from here as well. Although not in York proper, TORTURE ASCENDENCY, THE HUMAN RACE IS FILTH, and VEILBURNER (Transcending Obscurity), are about twenty-five minutes up the road. Also, I don’t think many people around here would know this, but the guitarist for HELLFROST AND FIRE (Transcending Obscurity) lives around this area too. “Hellfrost” is a David Ingram (Benediction) side project in the vein of Celtic Frost.
I could go on and on. There are a lot of people doing cool things for such a small place. Central Pennsylvanian hunger is real! Hahaha.
Your lyrics are focused on dark fantasy stories. That’s atypical for death-doom metal, so I wonder how did you make a decision to turn to this theme and mix it with that kind of music?
When we first started Cultic, I wanted to emulate the band Winter. I believe most, if not all, of their songs are rooted in fantasy. So, it was a calculated decision on my part. Also, Rebecca and I have always loved the swords & sorcery aesthetic.
What are your main influences in this field? Books, games, or movies?
I’m more inspired by visual art. Ken Kelly, Michael Whelan, Frazetta, The Hildebrandt brothers, David Trampier, Vallejo, Catherine Jones, and so on. Typical classic stuff. My biggest influence is my wife, Rebecca. It’s cool to be able to watch her breathe life into the visual aspect of Cultic. Our lives are sometimes like an immersive art concept. Ha.
As far as movies go. I like most fantasy-oriented movies and tv. Even the bad stuff. Our “Forest of Knives” video was highly influenced by Excalibur and Black Angel. The harsh color grading in the “Beseech the Olden Throne” video was loosely based on the rotoscoped Lord of the Rings and Fire and Ice. Oh, circling back around to an earlier question about York. Mark Zug lives here too. I just remembered that. He’s a highly accomplished fantasy artist.
Did you ever build your stories around some particular books or movies? Or is it a result of your own imagination?
Our stories are one hundred percent our own. We obviously pull inspiration from certain fantasy-based themes. But we don’t draw directly from existing work.
Your (still) new album Of Fire and Sorcery sounds macabre and twisted despite your lyrics based on dark fantasy. Did you develop this necromantic sound consciously or did it happen spontaneously?
Cultic is a conceptual band. We’re kind of like King Diamond in that respect. High Command tells the story of a war and Of Fire and Sorcery tells the story of the sorcerers behind that war. So, the whole storyline plays out in reverse. The same thing is true with the album art. If you put the albums together, they form a diptych, adding another level to the story. Our next full-length will carry on that tradition to form a triptych and so on and so forth.
I’m digressing. The necromantic sound on Of Fire and Sorcery is intentional. Especially regarding the use of synths. I wanted them to emulate the sounds of magic, or how I would imagine a sorcerer’s lair to sound.
Will your next EP follow the same lyrical concept?
The Seducer EP is about an archetypal sex witch who lives in the same world, so it’s adjacent. This character is also a bit of a lead into our next album.
How long did you work on Of Fire and Sorcery?
We started writing shortly after High Command was written. So, two years give or take? It was an organic process from the beginning. A lot of songwriting ideas come to me when I’m doing nothing. I paid attention to this during the writing process. Meaning, if a riff or vocal arrangement popped into my head, I’d make a video of myself humming or singing it. Most of the songs on Of Fire and Sorcery started that way. Rebecca thinks that I should string all those videos together and put them on the internet. Some of them are funny.
Did you record everything at home?
Yes. Cultic is almost 100% DIY. The only thing we don’t do is PR.
We’ve mentioned it already. One of the album’s features is gorgeous and ominous keyboard parts. How did you get the idea to use those dungeon-synth influences?
Thank you! The idea to use dungeon synth pieces came from an album review of High Command. The review basically said something to the effect of “This would be a lot better if it were combined with Dungeon Synth”. I thought about it for about three seconds until coming to the realization that this guy was totally right and we needed to do it. Hey, Alex from Metal Bite. Thank you! You forever changed how we write music!
You had a video for the “Forest of Knives” song taken from the High Command album, and so why didn’t you support Of Fire and Sorcery the same way?
Oh…We did! We did a video for “Beseech the Olden Throne”. It’s definitely a different animal than “Forest of Knives”. We shot it during a spike in Covid, so the entire thing was created in complete isolation by Rebecca and I. Check it out!
Yep, my fault! It’s strange that YouTube didn’t offer it as well. Brian, look, you have a vision behind the band, that concept and videos, some clear features regarding your sound. Did you approach big labels for support? How do you value Cultic’s chances to jump on a bigger train?
We’ve never shopped Cultic to a big label. The primary function of a big label is to make as much money as humanly possible. It’s a business model that I don’t think would be congruent with Cultic, and vice-versa. All of us have full-time nine-to-five jobs and families. We couldn’t pick up and go on tour for a year. We’re not apt to compromise in a lot of respects. I guess weirder things have happened though, hahahah. But yeah, there are no plans on trying to shop ourselves to a big label.
With that said, we have had a handful underground labels approach us after the release of Of Fire and Sorcery. All are incredibly humbling. One was special for me because I have an immense amount of respect for them. A lot can happen in a few years. Stay tuned!
How often does Cultic play live? Is it a necessary part of the band’s creativity?
Not very often. We try not to play locally more than six times a year and we may do a handful of regional gigs in between.
Performing is not part of my creative process by any stretch. Playing live for me is more about building relationships with other like-minded people. Don’t be shy if you come out to one of our shows, introduce yourself!
Are you disappointed with gigs or did you just not see it as your primary goal?
Not disappointed at all. Playing shows is not my favorite aspect of playing in a band. I enjoy writing, recording, and ideating. The relationships we garner at our shows are more important to me than the act of playing live.
Thanks for the interview, Brian! And good luck with spreading the Cultic word! Any final Cultic message for our readers?
Rebecca and I watched a documentary the other day about music streaming. I forget the exact number… But it said that if you listened to all the music that goes live on the internet in just one day, it would take something like 140 days listening nonstop for you to hear it all. Point being, for anyone to give us their time is humbling. We sincerely thank you!