By and large, I’m not a sucker for novelty metal bands. If you wear antlers and fur onstage and see fit to regale me with tales of deer that you categorically have never caught then, chances are, I’ve already checked out. I’m all for good fun, but if your band features “Troll” in its name, kindly fuck off. Because of this, I’m often a little cautious when introduced to new bands who seem to be born aloft on a draught of novelty furore. I feel the same familiar shiver when I see the “retro” tag scratching around in the promo bin, but even I can admit that, sometimes, retro does not negate relevancy. Enter Cursed Moon. This one man entity hailing from L.A, combines the 80’s melodrama of darkwave (new wave and post punk combined with gothic rock) with the feral nature of early black metal to spawn debut album Rite of Darkness. A part of me wanted to hate it – and I hate that I couldn’t.
Sal “Hellraiser” Yanez, the Curse behind the Moon, has plundered the gothic classics in his bid to hybridize an all new creature of the night dubbed “deathwave”. The Sisters of Mercy, Fields of the Nephilim and Siouxsie and the Banshees find themselves focused through a distinctly harder medium and narrated with a blackened vocal, conjuring the likes of early Bathory and Celtic Frost. Any fans of that 80’s movement should have some idea of what to expect – minimalist guitar chords backed by layers of overwrought synths and ethereal keys deigned to swell over rigid bass rhythms. Announcing its arrival with the toll of a bell, “Gates of Hell” dusts off the grave soil with some simple yet effective chords before the eerie lead kicks in. Hellraiser’s gruff bark contrasts nicely with the instrumentation, infusing the simple and instantly memorable chorus with a keen edge, a trait which persists throughout the entire album.
The synths here, although most certainly divisive, cannot be underestimated. The gloomy, astral atmospheres that pervade each song is as necessary as the rhythm section in forging the structure of the material. Hellraiser has designed these soundscapes as the main gothic feature and then knowingly accentuated them with his own sparse riffing, ranging from celestial strummings to outright punk pacing. “Nightmares” and “Creatures of the Night” serve up enough swagger with the insistent minimalism of what I suspect is a programmed drum track, and yet another set of indelible choruses, bolstered once again with those shining keys. “Ritual Sacrifice,” albeit subtly, features more of a black metal influence with the guitar’s increased prominence opting for an increase in despondent chord progressions – the song even ends on a Tom G. Warrior “ugh!” Negatives for this project will come down, in no small part, to the musical proclivities of the listener. The aforementioned influences on their own will most certainly be enough to harrow many a metal head, but for those of us with a little more flexibility, this collection of songs represent nothing more than a damn good time.
The mix on Rite of Darkness is complimentary enough; the guitars sit about level with the synths and the drums beat out a prominence, mechanically keeping a very distinct time. The record ends with three covers, each one particularly good. – they are, however, something of a double-edged sword for Cursed Moon. In particular, the “deathwaved” iterations of “Turn the Cross Upside Down” by Finland’s Oz and “Assimilate” by Skinny Puppy. While they blend nicely with the aesthetic of the record and are, in fact, very enjoyable, they do also unfortunately represent a disparity in song writing. While I’m certainly not implying that Hellraiser’s original material is in any way to be sneezed at, the more established bands’ output does retroactively highlight some of the record’s discrepancies.
Cursed Moon is a lot of fun and while it remains to be seen what kind of legs this blurring of genres actually has, for now its enough of a success to have taken my deathly delectation by surprise and kept me stolidly entertained for the last week. A retro novelty for sure, but one that not once insulted my intelligence by labouring some kind of Herne the Hunter LARP fantasy, and an act I would happily indulge live. Although your mileage may vary, I hope you offer Sal Yanez and his lunar lamentations the attention they deserve at least once, for that weeping goth in us all.