Bestial war metal. It’s an evocative name, isn’t it? Succinct. Direct. Descriptive. You’re not getting pretentious instrumentation, or strange ancient languages, or complicated metaphors about the modern condition. Raw, primal, direct black metal designed to quicken the pulse is the name of this game. Enter Cult of Extinction, a one-man war metal band hailing from Germany, and the brain-child of the mysterious Void. Ritual in the Absolute Absence of Light is his first album, following a demo from 2018 entitled Black Nuclear Magick Attack. Immediately, astute readers will notice a problem: the latest title is full of tautology. It should simply have been called Ritual in Darkness. For a band aiming to produce primal, fiery music, a needlessly long and pretentious title is not a good place to start (though the alliteration is pleasing). Can the band overcome this misstep? Or is it a harbinger of things to come?
Cult of Extinction plays a brutal, crushing, suffocating brand of blackened death metal in the vein of Blasphemy or Proclamation. It’s extreme and uncompromising, which means it’s not the stuff you play for your pal who is looking to ‘get into’ metal1. The major problem here is that while the music is unquestionably dark and heavy, those two qualities alone are not enough to make an album compelling. There still needs to be well-written songs with hooks, a suitable atmosphere, and dynamism. And on these fronts, Ritual is only partially successful. While a terrific sense of filthy blackness pervades, the songs themselves let the album down. This is especially disappointing because the second track, “Anti-Monad Black Hole Bomb,” sets the stage nicely. A sense of crushing dread and paranoia is established through maniacal howls and furious blast-beats. Musically, there’s nothing complicated going on, but this is early days, right? Void is just warming up, surely? Unfortunately, not. Almost every track that follows sticks to a similar blue-print. Rudimentary chord progressions, smatterings of dissonance, and thundering blast beats with an over-reliance on the snare. This lack of variety means that although Ritual is only 33 minutes long, it quickly becomes repetitive and tiresome.
Cult of Extinction has opted for a very low-fi sound for Ritual. While I can see what the band was aiming for — keeping things raw and kvlt like the bands mentioned above — this choice, while enhancing the mood, occasionally highlights the deficiencies in the song-writing. It takes the few hooks that do exist and simply bulldozes them into the sludge of feedback and snares (see “Blood of the Theurg” for example). Even with very good headphones, it sometimes sounds like the chaos is controlling Void, not the other way round. The reason Blasphemy got away with this kind of lo-fi production is that the quality of their songs maintained a tight rein on the sonic brutality. Cult of Extinction, unfortunately, just isn’t in the same league. Other issues include the vocals, which are presented in a distorted, echo-like manner. Rather than being vicious and compelling, this technique is artificial and distracting and makes it seem like Void is hiding a lack of ideas behind studio trickery.
Bright spots, paradoxically, exist. The atmosphere is all-encompassing and impressively maintained. Some songs, like the aforementioned “Anti-Monad” and “Emanated from the Cosmic Darkness” succeed in creating the furious mood Cult of Extinction is aiming for. The non-metal tracks, unlike so many other albums, actually serve a purpose and add meaningfully to the album. Opener “Sacred Glorification of the Pandemic” has a perfect, industrial feel which really sets the mood. Later on, “The Descent,” with its dissonant, unsettling shrieks, is scarier and more interesting than many of the more furious tracks.
Bestial war metal done right is primal and frightening and atavistic. It has the capacity to connect deep down into the darkest reaches of the black souls who can endure it. Done wrong, however, it’s simply a dense, muddied bore. Unfortunately, Ritual in the Absolute Absence of Light, clunky in both title and execution, too often falls into the latter category. While the mood is impressive, the song-writing, compounded by distracting production choices, is just not as compelling. The genre could certainly benefit from more representation, and I like what Cult of Extinction is aiming for. But this effort just has too many deficiencies to recommend.