Have you ever described yourself as “vast, Polyphemus-like and loathsome”? me too. The fellas in Ctulu certainly have. Knowing my obsession for all things Lovecraft, a friend of mine has been haranguing me for the last few years to check out Ctulu (the band, not the scourge of creation). Something I have consciously avoided doing, mostly because I’m an infuriating and perverse son of a bitch. When I stumbled upon their fourth and newest self-titled release in the arcane libraries of AMG, I decided enough was enough. Frankly, I wish I had sooner because these Germans play a high-energy amalgamation of Lawless Darkness era Watain and latter-day Immortal. Bound together with a smattering of the folk-tinged melodic death metal found in acts like King of Asgard, the results pack quite the punch.
I have a tumultuous relationship with black metal. Although I love the progenitors of the scene, be it the first wave or second, I find that, as time goes by, my interest in the traditional material has waned. Truly, Madam X would be ashamed. What I look for is some kind of creative catalyst, be it genre-splicing or genuine progression, to keep the dark flame alive. So while I expected Ctulu to be somewhat black metal by numbers, imagine my surprise to find opener “Serce Krwawe” (roughly translated as “bleeding heart”) beckoning me with a kick-ass doom intro, which would soon morph into an ominous Viking march to impress even the likes of Sig:Ar:Tyr. The entirety of Ctulu‘s material is written and performed in German, and, as I don’t speak the language, it furnished the tracks with a certain occult ambiguity, which does no harm when espousing the world-devouring cause of the The Great Old Ones — especially via Ctulu‘s self-coined brand of “seafaring extreme metal”.
The level of quality present in Ctulu and indeed Ctulu themselves was a genuine and pleasant surprise. “Totenhauswinde” blasts through a whole collection of recycled Dissection lines before guitarist and vocalist, M breaks into a locomotive chug, cementing the song as one to hear live. The faster material, particularly “Treibjagd” and favorite “Von Mondeswachtern und Menschverachtern” all feature sickle-sharp, tremolo-heavy verses before breaking into the kind of thrashy reprieves that made releases like Sons of Northern Darkness so great — M’s gargolic rasps slathered all over the infectious riffage. This, however, is where we arrive at a slight kink in the creative juncture. There is nothing that I can overtly criticize about Ctulu, it’s heavy, agile and definitely has the musicianship and heft to keep any listener invested — but by the halfway point the well of ideas has begun run dry. It’s hard to penalize a band for perpetuating more of the same – after all, the metalverse is infamous for its “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” credo – but for a band so obviously able, it was hard to shake the feeling that the last of those innovation-inhibiting genre shackles are yet to be thrown off.
Ctulu‘s centerpiece, “Rozgoryczona, rozczarowana, a gotowa na wszystko,” a Polish title that translates to “Bitter, disappointed and ready for anything” channels a palpable Hammerheart vibe. Bassist, A’s backing chants tracked over M’s lead vocals and the steady rhythm catalyze the song as the record’s creative peak. It’s by far the album’s most restrained and emotive cut, composed of enough diverse elements to combat the crushed master. Drummer, I.D charges his way through Ctulu with enough prescience to know when to hit the gas and when to exercise restraint; sadly his efforts are cowed by the mix which keeps the guitars front and center.
Ctulu have undeniably crafted an album of extreme metal worthy of your time and curiosity. Overwhelmingly, however, this self-titled release smacks of a band on the precipice of change – one I predict will usher in an album to truly sit up and pay attention to, leaving it’s older sibling to languish in the dimly lit corridors of the also-ran museum. If you have a penchant for melodic black metal and a flowering man (or girl) crush on Jon Nodtveidt and his musical legacy, then this will no doubt stave off those frost-ridden hunger pangs. As for me, I’m more curious to see what betentacled beast this platter serves to feed.