They say that sex is like pizza: even when it’s bad, it’s still pretty good. However, they fail to explain that it’s not very memorable and you’re not likely to return to that pizzeria or lay very often. That kind of sums up how I feel about the latest release by Iceland’s Cult of Lilith.
Mara, their debut full-length on Metal Blade, is in a style they describe as “Necromechanical baroque” – which in layman’s terms is a combo of death metal, prog, and classical. Think if Karl Sanders of Nile was more into studying Europe in the 1600s and the music of Vivaldi than ancient Egyptian mythologies and instrumentation and you start to get an idea. The album opens uniquely enough with a harpsichord as an intro to ‘Cosmic Maelstrom’ which is, otherwise, a pretty straight forward death metal track.
Harpsichord isn’t the only unique instrumentation brought to the album. “Purple Tide” opens with some synth that reminds me that I still have to get caught up on Stranger Things and peppers in some keys and organ, while “Profeta Paloma” enlists the use of flamenco guitar. The entire album is also peppered with moments of very passionate clean vocals courtesy of frontman Mario Infantes Ávalos, who does a solid job switching between guttural growls to mid-level death yells and the empowered cleans. Along with the freedom only a fretless bass can provide thanks to bassist Samúel Örn Böðvarsson, Cult of Lilith manages to meld these instruments and style in a way that flows better than expected and avoids sounding forced.
You might ask me, “Ted, you started off making it sound like this is a bad album. Why are you saying so many positive things now?” and I’d say, “Who are you? Who gave you my email? Stop messaging me.” before explaining that this is by no means a bad album. Throughout this review, I’ve listened to the album a good dozen or so times trying to find something to critique to justify a low score or something to praise to justify a good one, but struggled to find either. My issue is that the album is missing that certain something.
Throughout each listen, I’ve been trying to find that lynchpin hook, that catchy vocal pattern, or that one song that anchors the “wow” factor for the album that makes you say “Hey dude, listen to this,” and never could find it. It’s clear that they have quality musicianship and a unique ability to incorporate different styles and instruments into clean, cohesive tracks, so I trust that in time, they will become a band to watch out for. And when that day comes, I’ll gladly give them another shot, but otherwise, this is an album that would just sit on my shelf collecting dust.
Written by Ted Berger
*Edited by Dominic Abate