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Cosmic grandeur of Mahākālī! - 93%

Achintya Venkatesh, April 25th, 2014

Metal’s infatuation with the arcane realm of theology is nothing particularly new, having more than dabbled with the occult and its different varieties since its very inception with Black Sabbath’s seminal debut; a subtle, albeit simplistic and almost amateurish take on the topic. Czech Republic has in particular given rise to some very off-beat bands, and the most obvious suspects that come to mind in terms of this specific segment of extreme metal are the seminal acts Master’s Hammer and Root, who played an experimental brand of (proto) black metal laden with tendencies slipping into traditional metal territory.

Cult of Fire made a considerable impact with their debut ‘Triumvirat’, marking them as one among the many promising forces from the country, but their latest, 'मृत्यु का तापसी अनुध्यान' (Mrityu Ka Tapsi Anudhyan), is a step in a different direction from ‘Triumvirat’ and is arguably their breakthrough album. The title, which translates into ‘Ascetic Meditation of Death’ reflects on this thematic shift, having originally been a conventional black metal outfit with leanings towards the occult and Satanism. This sophomore marks a shift towards a wholehearted exaltation to the theology of the Indian subcontinent, specifically that aspect surrounding death, as the album art reinforces with its depiction of the Hindu goddess Kali, portrayed in a manner that projects a certain transcendence among the cosmos while still maintaining the Goddess’ traditional fierceness. Thus, the occult-driven themes here are far from contrived or cliched, and quite unique in a sense, as one rarely comes across a band with themes surrounding death worship in a specifically Hindu context. Track names such as ‘मृत्यु ही सत्य है’, which translates into ‘Only Death is Real’, attests to that.

The album, much like its themes is not wholly sonically straightforward, but an immensely gratifying experience in terms of the manner in which it combines the inherent esotericism with the story-telling abilities of the melodies and atmospheres being conjured. Taking small cues from the likes of Gehenna and Dissection but also from more wholeheartedly atmospheric bands such as Drudkh and Summoning, Cult of Fire primarily paints atmospheres by means of texturing its melodicity-laden guitar riffs around strobing patterns, which evolve under linearly executed percussion; while the more eclectic elements that the band uses increases the meditative atmosphere it seeks to invoke. These elements also seemingly help to usher in a metamorphosis of sorts, coalescing and deconstructing different song-writing ideas of the same time. Melodies are always in a motion of sorts, shifting between sonorous and more effervescent moods to darker, bleaker moods. The guitars as a whole have a lustrous quality to them, although more atmospheric relative to say, the pulsating melodicity and virulence of black metal bands with blatantly melodic leanings.

The nature of the tracks is fairly diverse, with the band juxtaposing more atmospheric song-writing ideas with a blasting, more aggressive indulgence, effectively painting an abstraction that describes the very essence of the Goddess Kali – a force of empowerment, strength and redemption while being a fierce and destructive figure on face-value. The band fantastically balances compositions with more upbeat and masterfully rhythmic leanings, which is where the harsh vocal pillage truly shines through; and more ruminant ambiances. While the thematic leanings of the band, including their usage of Devanagri script and eastern instruments such as the Sitar, might seem overwhelming to the average listener, the album is in its essence a black metal album par excellence. It is unlikely to appeal to black metal aficionados who like their black metal devoid of any diverse and eclectic elements, as is used here; such as the ambiance-inducing usage of the sitars, or the seemingly incongruent yet reflective keyboard work on tracks like ‘काली मां’, or the organs and chime usage, the chanted mantras or even some of the more abstract sound samples such as the burning of pyres.

What is fantastic about the flow of the album is that both the introductory and closing tracks put the listener in a reverie of sorts, marking a full circle in this aural journey that is suspenseful, emotive and entrancing in its architecturing; as well as the fact that the band frequently places upbeat and dynamic tracks before or after more pensive indulgences in line with the spiritual themes of the album. The drumming is very thoughtfully executed, being the conventional blasting indulgence in the more syncopation-driven passages, while alternating between a marching and relaxed pace in the aerial and eremitic segments. The production too is very rich, and balances out the instruments to work in congruence with each other, successfully ushering in the atmospheres that one seeks out in this type of music. These elegiac patterns and their respective changes and shifts in turn make for very dark, but surrealistic and eloquent experiences. In essence, Cult of Fire has with this album made for an almost spiritual experience with this sonic austere of a monolithic album. Enough talk, this album is an essential listen, and is a beautiful experience in itself that needs to be absorbed as a whole.

Originally written for - MetalWani.com