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Underrated Classic - 100%

dispaterwisdom, July 11th, 2018
Written based on this version: 2006, CD, Peaceville Records (Slipcase)

Many reviewers have described this as the beginning of Darkthrone's retro-revival-heavy-metal era. I disagree with that assessment, instead pointing to F.O.A.D. as the indicator of that shift. However, it must definitely be acknowledged that The Cult is Alive marks a clear turning point in the band's direction, regardless of the fact that this work is very much firmly planted in the classic era of Darkthrone. If this is only a crust-punk album as some claim, then it's surely one of the grimmest and "blackest" examples of crust-punk I've ever heard.

Nocturno Culto's guitar playing and riff writing honestly harkens back to the feeling of A Blaze in the Northern Sky and Under A Funeral Moon. Its tone in the production is crispy, cold, and scraping as hell, just like you'd expect, but there's a revived vigor to them on this record as well. What makes these riffs sound so fresh is the more complex rhythms that they play along with the drums. And this takes us to the drum parts, probably the single most different thing to be found on this album. Fenriz goes full punk and 1st-wave black metal in his drumming here. This combined with the more traditional tremolo, buzzing guitars by Nocturno layered above and you get a fascinatingly fresh approach to the Darkthrone feeling. Add to this that the drums sound way drier then they ever have, nearly approaching a "tape demo" feel, without the super lo-fi element of a old cassette.

Although musically, Fenriz may have called this album in his interviews the beginning of a "regression", there's a real clarity to the production that definitely feels "updated" and appropriately contemporary. This is despite their claim to not do any mixing nor any "turning of knobs" once they record everything. If indeed they left the knobs at a random spot on the console, then fate did a good job at leaving them at the right spot because everything sounds just like it should.

Besides the drums being so unique in the Darkthrone discography, we get a more old-school, even black-thrash approach to lyric writing. When listening to "Atomic Coming" one can see a nod to Sodom in the lyrics. "Graveyard Slut" also harkens back to Venom, Sodom, and even early death metal bands that sang of similar topics. Fenriz also sings on this track which comes as a great surprise, really delivering a deeper, more grunted and primitive style that adds so much power and creepiness to the track.

Many consider their previous record, "Sardonic Wrath" to be the last black metal release and in a sense I understand where they're coming from because there is a strong continuity from Blaze in the Northern Sky to that album that cannot be denied. It's their consistency and purposely unchanging attitude that prevailed and made each release something you knew was going to be uncompromising black metal. However, crust-punk and heavy rock were always a part of Darkthrone's sound. This time around the band decides to focus in on this punk aspect to such a degree that in some ways it could be classified as crust-punk, but that would most likely fall short of recognizing this album's glory. It's incredibly fresh and different, yet also is totally recognizable as Darkthrone and real black metal. It breaks new ground while simultaneously regressing to a hateful primitiveness that is very palpable. In this sense this album achieves mastery.

Perhaps one could argue that crust punk CAN BE black metal if done in this way, but then we'd be getting way too mired in genre arguments... Lets just say that The Cult is Alive is one of the band's darkest, grimmest, fucked-up, and hellish albums ever, regardless of its label. Other highlights would be "The Cult of Goliath" or "Whiskey Funeral", and "Shut Up" for a little comic relief.

If you listened to this once, or even a few times and turned it off because it wasn't satisfying your expectations, I recommend you go back and give this another chance, a real chance, and realize that just like "Transylvanian Hunger" this album is meant to be listened to alone, in the dark, somewhere where you can allow this to sink into your mind, and once it does, it'll never leave you. Post-apocalyptic Darkthrone at its finest.