The Internet is a wonderful thing. You can find pretty much everything via the web: your future ex-wife/husband, unnecessary lists you never knew you wanted to read, questionable porn based on whatever, and yes, even band members. Culted are a unique group. Three-quarters of the band live in Manitoba, Canada, and they’ve never met their vocalist, Swedish-based Daniel Jansson, with the exception of file-sharing and email correspondence. Remarkably, even without ever being in the same room, they craft some seriously cold, bleak soundscapes. Their second album, Oblique to All Paths, plods on like a pissed off, grimy, venom-spewing sloth, and is quite the soundtrack to a polar vortex if there ever was one.
The ambient, almost dreamy first minute-and-a-half of opener “Brooding Hex” feels like a warm fuzzy blanket, until you realize seconds later that it’s infested with black widows. Slow, a bit discordant, and definitely eerie… there’s a definite “Godflesh meets Swans at a Batillus show” feel in this song, with simple-yet-effective riffs, plodding drums and percussion, thick-as-tar bass, and Jansson’s tortured screams and ambient sound effects. At the 9:32 mark (and folks, it’s a 19-minute dirge epic), one can’t help but feel the emptiness of a barren street on a cold windy winter morning.
And this feeling of despair and hopelessness bleeds on to the other six tracks. “March of the Wolves,” their shortest non-instrumental at just under five minutes, flirts with thick riffs and a near-Neurosis tribal percussive motif. “Transmittal” would have Justin Broadrick seething with envy with its cold, mechanical intro before giving away to some atonal guitar-picking courtesy of Michael Klassen and Matthew Friesen and a creepy spoken word piece by Jansson. The last two minutes is pure ugly chug, like that feeling that the monster that’s been chasing you for so long finally has you trapped and helpless. Speaking of Janssen, his voice, whether speaking or screaming, adds a feeling of creepiness and discomfort that’s incredibly effective, and his penchant for ambient noise is pretty top-notch as well.
With that said, this is quite an endurance test of an album, and it doesn’t hurt to be in the right mood to listen to it. You could also trim a few minutes off “Brooding Hex” and “Transmittal” without losing any of the effectiveness. Plus, some of the drumming by Kevin Stevenson is a little off, but that also adds to the overall atmosphere. In terms of production, this is very dirty, filthy, and unclean. Unapologetically overdriven at points (the intro to “Transmittal”) and always distorted, this is what truly grimy music should sound and feel like.
Cold, uncomfortable, slimy, hopeless… Culted have put forth a very dark album in Oblique to All Paths. It’s way too early to tell at this point, but even if it doesn’t make my year-end list, they sure as shit got my attention and will be keeping an eye of them in the future. For now, though, I need to cleanse myself of its filth, and a nice warm shower awaits me…