I like myself a good homage, but Atlanta, Georgia upstarts Cloak are a bit of a weird one. Admittedly, I’m being presumptuous by calling them an homage act but, man, does their debut album ever recall memories of Tribulation’s two-years-young The Children of the Night, and the fact that the band’s first demo dropped six months after that album’s release doesn’t help my suspicions. That being said, To Venomous Depths doesn’t feel at all like a cash-in. Even if many of Tribulation’s core components are intact, Cloak differentiates its approach just enough to make for a unique black ‘n’ roll record. Though mostly successful, there are problems endemic to TVD’s formula that bar me from fully enjoying it, even if it comes frustratingly close to being truly good.
The Tribulation comparisons are solely the product of Cloak’s instrumental execution. Much of the guitar layering and the doomy, gloomy note progressions feel heavily inspired by Tribulation, and aggressive metal rhythms are largely substituted with traditional rock grooves in a similar fashion. Outside of the instrumentation and the growly vocals, however, the similarities essentially end. Aesthetically speaking, To Venomous Depths is a much more pervasively dark sounding record; Cloak is an apt name for this project because a sense of dread covers the proceedings like a shroud of death. The interplay between driving mid-paced rhythms and dissonant chord layering strikes an intriguing balance between levity and stone-faced seriousness, with occasional pitch-black tremolo lines or sinfully catchy leads occasionally tipping the scales in either direction.
These disruptions of the status quo, however, are far too seldom. To Venomous Depths’ tonal duality should have been its defining feature; it feels like Cloak was aiming for a record that is as fun as it is vicious, but the band straddles the line so closely between the two that the experience feels dishearteningly flat. Cloak establishes their order of operations early on and, by the end of the record nearly a full hour later, has essentially made no headway in experimenting with their sound, as if they’re too proud of their formula to ever dare risk rocking the boat. Do not take this to signal a dearth of memorable moments – the toe-tappingly infectious chorus of “The Hunter” and the earworm leads and solos of “Beyond the Veil” are great examples of black ’n’ roll magic – but when every highlight feels strung together by the same handful of arpeggiating chords, it’s difficult to maintain a consistent level of enjoyment.
Certain tracks of To Venomous Depths can feel rhythmically lethargic, as well. The methodical tempos typically work in Cloak’s favor (as it does in the modern Satyricon-esque stomp of “Within the Timeless Black”), but some cuts, especially “In the Darkness, the Path” feel like they should’ve been recorded just… a bit… faster. Drummer Sean Bruneau sounds as though he echoes my sentiments with rolling, energetic fills that don’t quite fit the tempo in some spots as if the lagging pace is fencing off his performance from really letting loose. From a production standpoint, the performances shine with dense tones that fit TVD’s thick atmosphere, but the mixing suffers the same issue as the two other Season of Mist black metal records I’ve covered this year. The drums are punchy and the bass is given decent space to work, but the layered guitars cramp in on each other when more effective spacing could’ve resulted in a gorgeous stringscape.
I really wanted to love To Venomous Depths. It’s the rare black ‘n’ roll record with some legitimately interesting workings under the hood, and its atmosphere is authentically dreary without negating the more purely entertaining aspects of Cloak’s sound. Yet by boxing itself into a limited toolset and then bloating that box to fifty-seven minutes, the resulting package is lacking in variety and difficult to fully recommend despite a fun, consistent groove and a good number of highly entertaining moments. Even so, TVD should hold broad appeal to those who can stomach its debut-like shortcomings, and if nothing else it’s an opportunity to get in on the ground floor for a band that has huge potential to craft something very special in the future.