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Ascetic Meditation of Death - 95%

stuw23, December 21st, 2013

Black metal has been to some strange, adventurous places since its inception, and especially over the past decade. The orthodoxies of old still exist, but it seems that more and more bands are willing and capable of looking beyond the boundaries laid down during the 90s, and take in all manner of influences and to chart new sonic territories whilst still remaining undeniably black metal. मृत्यु का तापसी अनुध्यान is a prime example of such a record. Opening track संहार रक्त काली (translated: Samhara Rakta Kali) begins with what sounds like droning sitar and some deep, ominous “om”-style chanting. It takes almost a minute for any guitars to come in, and the end of the introduction is marked by a gong crash. Even amongst the following blast beats and furious tremolo picking, though, there are still sounds and instruments that are – to these ears – exotic. Needless to say, if you are unshakeably kvlt and trve in your approach to black metal, then this record is unlikely to appeal. But to more open-minded listeners who can listen to something using non-metal instruments without screaming “fake!” or “gimmick!”, a stunning journey awaits.

In terms of the core black metal components – and it is the core of Cult Of Fire’s sound, make no mistake – there is nothing too unusual here. Their sound is built on the foundations laid down by bands such as Dissection, Watain, and the more straight-forward works of Blut Aus Nord – so, melodic black metal. But whereas other bands playing that style of black metal might compliment their sound with keyboards, Cult Of Fire make use of instruments such as sitars and chimes. When keys do pop up, they’re not the stereotypical choir or “haunting” sounds that so many other bands use. Instead, it’s more of a classic rock organ sound, much like Sigh have made use of. It’s mostly subtle, taking a back-seat to the more traditional instruments, but it helps add that extra bit of something special to the songs. All of these unusual additions are done with a taste and sensibility that indicates that a lot of time and thought has gone in to the construction of these songs, and ensures that they do not overwhelm or bog down the songs. There are too many examples to list them all, but fifth track मृत्यु ही सत्य है (translated: Only Death Is Real) is perhaps the best example, with the organ really adding that extra bit of punch, especially just before the third minute mark. The result – when combined with some stunning guitars – is absolutely incredible, and one of the best black metal moments of the year.

Which leads nicely on to another point: the guitar leads. The trouble with many metal bands of all styles is that their melodies can often seem uninspired and predictable, but that is absolutely not the case here. They are never less than inspired, and countless other bands could learn something from listening to them. The vocals are powerful and commanding, and the drums hammer away as furiously as you would hope, with some great fills at points amongst the blasting mayhem.

Likewise, the pacing and dynamics of the album are worthy of note. Though it mainly speeds along with fury and determination, there are enough mid-tempo sections and moments of relative calm to stop it being too overwhelming, such as fourth track काली मां (translated: Kali Ma), a more mid-tempo piece where the only vocals are spiritual chants, and some incredible piano playing steals the show. It serves to highlight just how broad the vision of this band is, and demonstrates a skill for taking all sorts of diverse, unusual elements and turning them to the service of black metal and their songs. Final track दिव्य प्रेम की ज्वाला से दग्ध (translated: Burned by the Flame of Divine Love) is built upon a foundation of sitars that compliment the more traditional instruments perfectly, and it ends up being utterly transcendent, and almost blissful. These are not terms usually associated with black metal, yet somehow, it all works perfectly.

The production is worthy of praise, too; everything is balanced nicely, with a rich, full sound. With so much going on, these songs could have easily collapsed under their own weight and become a mess, but the opposite is true. The album artwork is also worthy of praise; it is an absolutely stunning image of the Hindu goddess Kali, and perhaps as good a representation of the album as anything. It’s not too far removed from the traditional images of Satan that adorn so many records, yet is still different from what might be expected.

This is a stunning album, at times challenging the concepts of what is possible within the paradigm of black metal, yet that it belongs to the genre cannot be denied. The addition of instruments and sounds – as well as imagery – from India and the Hindu faith is no mere novelty, and all add to the sound and identity of the band. It’s also a real grower of a record – each listen reveals something new. A late contender for black metal release of the year.

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