Review: Cultist - An Observation of Grief

Zachary Tyler Van Dyke
Zachary Tyler Van Dyke   Follow

Band: Cultist

EP: An Observation of Grief

Genre: Deathcore/Beatdown

Record Label: Independent

Release Date: February 11, 2021

EP length: 23 Minutes

Track list:

  1. An Observation of Grief

  2. Preacher II (feat. Rob Wilson of Cardiac Rupture)

  3. The Gates of Hell Are Locked From the Inside (feat. Daniel Gates of All Have Sinned)

  4. I in Weakness of Flesh

  5. War With God (feat. Dakota Whiteside of Desolate Tomb)

  6. Tossed to the Wolves

  7. Within Despair

I don't have a huge background with deathcore/beat down metal, so this will be a journey – one I invite you to join me on as we explore the band Cultist and their new EP, An Observation of Grief. Their name brings up questions about what they are about – for sure, they are indeed Christians, which is evident through the lyrics in their music being very faith-filled. What you can expect to hear from them, however, is raw honesty. While holding onto their faith, they also pull no punches, musically or lyrically. This 7-track EP, when the lyrics are explored is an interesting examination of the differing forms grief can take.

"An Observation of Grief" opens the album with grief expressed in lack of hope that the onslaught of life's problems will end. There's a visceral overtone to the track that is felt in the throat-shredding vocals that convey the desperation of the lyrics well. With plenty of breakdowns and chugs, this track is sure to please the head-bangers among us. Perhaps the most interesting shift comes near the 2:40 mark of the song. Guitars shift in their tempo and rhythm, and it lends a groove to the incredibly enjoyable track.

"Preacher II (feat. Rob Wilson of Cardiac Rupture)" sees grief stemming from false preachers who don't preach for anything more than their own popularity and success. The prosperity gospel is largely in the target throughout this track and the result is one of the angriest tracks on the album. With riffs that are nasty enough to give anyone stank-face, the real highlight here is the feature of Rob Wilson. His vocal prowess lends a ferocity to the song that helps it stand out as the angriest while also giving voice to the frustration often felt when these kinds of preachers lead people astray. Atmospherically, there's almost a threat feel behind the instrumentation. It's an excellent example of anger (caused by grief) being expressed through music.

"The Gates of Hell Are Locked From the Inside (feat. Daniel Gates of All Have Sinned)" is a frustrated look at the obstinance of people who can hear the truth of God and choose to ignore it. Quick to call out these folks' intent to blame God for the wrongs they see, this track rips into the idea that God sends people to hell by pointing to the fact that we choose where we go. With some dissonance in the guitar work, some elements in this track give it more than just a one-dimensional feel. There's a variance that allows it to breathe and stretch out. While it is still a ferocious track, it feels like there's room to expand and stretch more than in the previous two tracks. Daniel Gates provides a wonderful feature during a moment of tension in the song. Grief plays its part in the final lyrics of the track which speak of the final result of neglecting God. Gates' delivery of these lines is as heart-rending as the words themselves are.

"I in Weakness of Flesh" watches grief turn itself inward as the narrative looks at our own inconsistencies in our faith-walk. Acknowledging our failure to obey God, this song actually sees grief clinging to the hope found in the gift of Jesus Christ. With some elements of hardcore in the riff-work, this track is an excellent one to bob your head to. It's easily the one track that sounds the most different among the rest. About halfway through, the tempo and tone shift into one of menace that, eventually, explodes into a triumphant riff completed with the delivery of the line, "But you, sparing your wrath, gift me with Jesus Christ". It's an excellent balance and contrast of darkness and light.

"War With God (feat. Dakota Whiteside of Desolate Tomb)" has the eeriest opening on the album. It seems for a moment as if there might be a moment of calm on the album, but in less than 30 seconds, that is quickly laid aside for some chugs and stutter-step double bass. It still has an interesting lead being played behind that sounds almost Egyptian – it's an interesting accent to the rest of the instrumentation. Grief rears its head in the face of apostasy. Similar to the anger of a refusal to acknowledge God, the anger in this song is towards those who abandon faith for "naturalistic" reasons. Perhaps containing the harshest of breakdowns on the album, the atmosphere of this track, as well as the lyrics, is the only one that truly feels hopeless. It's a dark song, but the tone fits well with the message. Dakota's feature, as the other features, needs a mention as it is in his moment that the hopelessness of the song reaches its high point. It's downright scary to hear, but it's so well done!

"Tossed to the Wolves" returns the focus back onto the church and finds grief aimed at the inconsistent behaviors of those who claim to follow Christ. The church was never meant to be known for what it is against, but rather, what it is for – and part of that is that it should be known for being the place where the broken can find the path to the provider of restoration: Jesus Christ. As this song so bluntly points out, there are those in the church who, through their own self-righteousness, push people away. This track is a chug-fest for sure, and while that is plenty entertaining, it does come across as a somewhat one-dimensional song with little variation. The biggest variant is in the hook; the riff there is huge and sounds like it would fit in well with the hardcore scene.

"Within Despair" takes the despair from "An Observation of Grief" and ratchets the tension up to eleven. Where the desperation in the opener stems from the way the world seems intent on beating us down, this track is rife with our inner world that can be the worst place for us to get stuck. What do we do when the place causing us harm is within our own heads? If you're Cultist, the answer is to make a plea to God for refuge and peace. Musically, this song holds a ton of nostalgia as the main riff has some old-school Norma Jean tri-tones that provide a nice contrast to the chugs. An outstanding track that blends the elements of deathcore and hardcore music perfectly.

Overall, this is a solid album that explores the different causes and expressions of grief. Lyrically, the album stands out for its boldness and willingness to always harken things back to God. Grief can be navigated when reliance on God is held. While the album does have a slight tendency to sound somewhat one-dimensional, what keeps that from being the case is the guest features and lyrical content. There's enough variety between the songs and the varied deliveries of the guest to keep the runtime from feeling repetitive and over-done. It's compelling to see how things like apostasy and false preachers are sources of grief, especially when expressed through anger, but Cultist handle it well. The clear point is made that, absent from the influence of God, grief reigns supreme.

High Point: I in Weakness of Flesh
Low Point: Tossed to the Wolves
Personal Favorite: Within Despair

Rating: 8/10

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