To acquire wisdom, one must observe

Cult Leader make tradition impressive on debut album

Salt Lake City’s Cult Leader is a band born of death and hatred. To be specific, the death of Utah metal/grindcore band Gaza and the hatred between band members that led the band to fire vocalist Jon Parkin. After Parkin was accused of sexual assault 2013, Gaza started facing cancelled shows and calls to boycott their music, and thus Parkin was kicked out when the tension between him and the rest of Gaza became too much.

So the instrumental musicians behind the heaviest band to ever come out of the Beehive State started a new project, with Gaza bassist Anthony Lucero taking lead vocals. Calling themselves Cult Leader, the new band signed to Boston-based hardcore label Deathwish, Inc. and released two crushing EPs, before releasing their first full-length record, “Lightless Walk,” this month, produced by Converge guitarist Kurt Ballou.

Based on the band’s history and the various adjectives I have used thus far to describe Cult Leader, it should be pretty easy to guess what these guys sound like. On Facebook, their genre is cited as “progressive crust,” a label I do not quite understand. But that does not matter. What matters is that in terms of pure, eardrum-shattering intensity, “Lightless Walk” tops Gaza’s entire career. On this album, Lucero and company not only move above their former band, but burn it in effigy.

From the opening track, “Great I Am,” the drums are so fast and thunderous, the guitar and bass are so heavy, and the vocals are screamed so dark and deep, you know what you are getting into: a musical punch in the mouth. Sometimes, the feedback made it sound like my speakers would burst into flame.

That said, while following tracks like “The Sorrow,” “Sympathetic” and “Suffer Louder” are all great, aggressive grinders, they stay well within the traditions of extreme music: short, fast, loud, done. Cult Leader are at their best on the second half of the album with songs like “A Good Life,” “Hate Offering” and “How Deep it Runs.” The slowness that comes at parts of this song (especially “How Deep it Runs”) allows for a more experimental, sprawling sound. The riffs are more complex, and Lucero’s guttural roars are more frightening. The title track, which is also the last, lasts over seven minutes of apocalyptic brutality.
On the faster songs, I was reminded of California band Nails’ 2013 masterpiece “Abandon All Life,” but on the slower songs, Cult Leader comes into their own. There are no political or anti-religious polemics that Gaza might do. Just unbridled impeccably performed aggression, and I dug it. I cannot imagine that this band will appeal to many people, especially if those people do not like the idea of a “musical punch in the mouth.” But in terms of pushing how far heaviness can go and how loose one can let in a mosh pit, Cult Leader are doing a great job. It is still clear on “Lightless Walk” that Cult Leader is a young band still in search of their unique sound. But for now, what they are is heavy, and I am fine with that.

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