On their debut album Of the Sun, the Italian melodic death metal band CultØ (cult-zero) don’t ease the listener into the experience. There’s no atmosphere-setting intro track, no seductive melodic overture, but a boiling cauldron of sound. That opening track “Flare” makes very clear very fast that CultØ like to hit hard and fast, with an emphasis on savagery that comes through loud and clear in the utterly hostile and authentically unhinged vocals, which range from gruesome guttural growls to throat-ripping screams.
Everything else screams ferocity too, from the bone-smashing drumwork to the jackhammer riffs. And while there are indeed melodies in the song, they’re more dissonant than harmonious and they create disturbing feelings, feelings of dismal hopelessness, unsettling queasiness, and bewildering confusion. It’s as if the more gut-slugging and bestial elements of the song are fighting against daunting experiences that are trying to confine them.
And so when you might read that CultØ draw heavy influence from the Gothenburg sound of the ’90s (the likes of In Flames and Dark Tranquillity), it becomes quickly clear that the band prize untrammeled aggression as much as they do a melodic hook or a groove-some rhythm, and dire moods more than emotional elevation. To be sure, they accent their songs with moments of delirious ecstasy (particularly in the brilliantly swirling and soaring solos) and warlike triumph. But there’s a lot of unmistakable darkness in the songs.
The combination of grim minor-key melodies, deleterious and crestfallen solos, and full-force fieriness turns out to be an effective contrast. The music has the ability to kick listeners’ adrenaline levels way up, but it’s still an often harrowing and despairing experience.
The adrenaline surge is provoked by the fast pacing that the band obviously prefer, coupled with rapidly changing drum patterns, heavy doses of machine-like battering (the jackhammers and pile-drivers in the band’s arsenal get a super-heated workout all through the album), and lots of darting and swarming fretwork that puts a premium on nimbleness.
You learn to expect that at some point (or many points) in each song, crystal clear solos will erupt in the midst of all the hammering and vocal fanaticism, but they won’t all be the same. Some will be steeped in grief and dread, while others channel feelings of defiance and resilience or sheer madness.
While turbocharged assaults are the norm, the band do pick a few times (most prominently in the mid-album track “The Desert of Shadows”) to ease back on the throttle and stomp like some giant clanging leviathan. That song also has a supernatural atmosphere, and its dragging and moaning chords are as grim as a sucking chest wound — though it eventually administers an accelerated beating too.
There aren’t any weak links in the track list, and the band manage to give each one its own character. Some are “catchier” than others (see “Excrete“), but all of them have the capacity to get their insidious hooks and megaton grooves in a listener’s head, even in songs as deranged and desperate as the one-two punch of “Void” and “The Ashes Of Annihilation“.
There’s also something of a surprise in “Darkness Leads To Light“, where the harsh vocals come close to singing (but not too close) and the music really does seem well-rooted in the classic Gothenburg melodeath tradition, a bracing gallop with exultant darting fretwork and an anthemic solo. That one’s also the “least dark” track on the record (though still a savage one), and will get your own pulse pumping right along with the vibrant pulse of the music.
You could put the whole album on shuffle, or just throw a dart at the track-list and listen to whatever it lands on, and come away happy, but if you wanted to be more selective, the closing track “Fire From Inside” does a very good job pulling together all of the band’s stylistic influences into a seamless whole.
We are certainly very happy to present a full stream of Of the Sun right now:
We’re told that “the concept of the lyrics is focused on the awareness of the artist and his creative abilities, through the metaphor of a star that, following a flare, becomes a creator and destroyer god in search of himself and his kind”.
The album will be released on October 27th by Time To Kill Records on 12″ black vinyl, jewel-case CD, cassette tape, and digital formats, and all can be ordered now:
Big Cartel: https://timetokillrecords.bigcartel.com/category/culto