A divine mother to the enlightened and a ferocious killer to those fearful of death, the Hindu goddess Kali is a figure of reverence and terror alike – a being that is by all accounts complex, mystical and arcane. What better genre to pay tribute to the Divine Mother than the fearsome majesty and ritual violence of black metal? Cult of Fire, hailing from the Czech Republic, move away from done-to-death “orthodox” Satanism obnoxiousness on their second album मृत्यु का तापसी अनुध्यान (Ascetic Meditation of Death) in favor of focussing on Hindi mythology, creating an album that is entirely dedicated to this most fearsome of Hindi goddesses.
One would think that the heady subject matter would call for a black metal sound akin to such arcane artisans of dissonance Deathspell Omega or Blut Aus Nord, but Cult of Fire surprisingly make very few tweaks to the black metal style. The album is introduced with “संहार रक्त काली,” which lures the listener in with a sinister-sounding sitar before careening into a familiar sounding blitzkrieg of blastbeats, repetitive tremolo riffing and hoarse snarls. It’s generic and predictable at first glance, but further listens reveal a band that is comfortable and more than adept within the genre constraints they confine themselves within.
Cult of Fire play a black metal that’s savage and melodic in equal measures, but perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the album is how listenable it is. Tracks like“काली मां” (track 4) and “खण्ड मण्ड योग” (track 7) toss out pseudo-Wagnerian synth choir cheesiness for a shimmering Hammond organ that has no business working as well as it does while the band rages over it all with bafflingly uplifting – yet muscular – guitar riffing.
The aforementioned 4th track overflows with grandiosity and triumphant melodicism that’s almost comforting to listen to, and “मृत्यु ही सत्य है” (track 5) propels itself into battle with riffing that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Windir album before that Hammond organ strikes again and brings the song to a cheery climax. Last track “दिव्य प्रेम की ज्वाला से दग्ध” even eschews metal entirely towards the end in favor of a 3 minute sitar respite, ending the album on a comforting, meditative note.
Ascetic Meditation… is hardly the most innovative or challenging black metal album to explore esoteric religious themes, but with the amount of craft and vigor that Cult of Fire offer in its stead, I’m compelled not to care one bit. By all accounts, Cult of Fire’s only objective is to give thanks and praises to the Divine Mother Kali that only the firebrand energy of black metal in its classic form can achieve. It is undeniably formulaic, but the album is more of a celebration of the genre conventions of black metal than it is a fall-back out of a lack of anything new to offer. Cult of Fire are confident and comfortable in their own skin, and clearly couldn’t give a damn whether or not they’re perceived as generic or predictable in an over-saturated metal environment. What could be more uniquely black metal than that? [What I want to know is how you did those symbols on a keyboard?? — Steel Druhm]