Review: Cult Leader – A Patient Man
The newest Cult Leader record is recommended for fans of Converge and Chelsea Wolfe alike.
Cult Leader’s latest record A Patient Man is surprisingly good. It’s not surprising that Cult Leader would put out an good record, but this record is good in a surprising way. Cult Leader have always been that brutal metallic hardcore band with proggy riffs and tragic sounding pretty sections, but A Patient Man leans harder into gentle heartbreak anthems than I would have ever expected this band to. Six of the album’s ten songs are purely grind-inflected hardcore, but over half of the album’s run time is devoted to delicately reverbed soundscapes with rich baritone crooning.
This is obviously not the first time a heavy band has turned toward making more quiet music. Cult Leader themselves have dipped into this space plenty of times before, like on the hypnotic “You Are Not My Blood” from their 2015 Useless Animal EP. However, I think Cult Leader have done it slightly differently than anyone before them on A Patient Man by utilizing the underappreciated art of album sequencing.
Album opener and lead single “I Am Healed” kicks down the door in classic Cult Leader fashion with a swift half-measure of blastbeat leading straight into a ripping hardcore track that blossoms into polyrhythmic melody and an irresponsibly heavy breakdown with the repeated cries of “heal me” clawing at your sanity. “Curse of Satisfaction” and “Isolation in the Land of Milk and Honey” uphold the barbarity until the very end of “Isolation”, where things slow down and vocals gasp for air under a shower of desolate chords.
Then, instead of figuring “that’s enough of the slow bits, let’s hardcore again”, the next two tracks are patient, somber tunes ripe with vulnerability. “To: Achlys” and “World of Joy” could have both been one-offs in the album to serve as a sort of halftime show to make the hardcore songs seem harder, but by putting two 7 minute songs like this together, they fully embrace this sound and make us forget we are listening to a “grind” band.
Of course, after we’ve spent 13 minutes being blissfully miserable with to these two songs and finally accepted that we are not listening to “heavy” music anymore, “World Of Joy” ramps into absolute cacophony, preparing us for yet more charred hardcore to come. The second half of the album then follows the same formula as the first – three disgustingly brutal songs full of skronks, grinds, and ignorant stomps lead into two long, slow songs that make you feel lost in an ocean of despair. I’ve enjoyed plenty of albums in my day that constantly shift between brutal and somber moods, and also plenty of hardcore albums that save a slow jam for an emotive closer, but I appreciate that A Patient Man lets us sit in one mood for long enough to forget that the other kind of music has even been played on this same album, before going back to it yet again.
To me, the key to the quiet songs hitting so hard is that the singing is so damn beautiful. There are certainly strong instrumental moments on the quiet songs, but they simply wouldn’t hold your attention for longer than a couple minutes if that haunting, deep voice wasn’t filling your ears with lyrical gems like “Arise mother of misery/Arise as divine sorrow/I offer up all I am/So that you may feast on me/Pass through me like dark light/Make my burden yours”. I love the way he digs into his “r”s on that line – it’s so “wrong” from a classical training perspective, but it makes this voice seem grounded and human rather than like an ethereal being from beyond.
The bottom line is that if you like fucked up hardcore as much as you like creepy slow jams, you’d best give this record a spin. Quality stuff from quality people.
3.5 Flaming Toilets ov Hell
P.S. – I couldn’t fit it into the review properly but I have to say that this album might have my favorite ever snare sound. It’s both thick and has that high-end metallic “krang” I can’t get enough of. Mm mm MMM.