Cult of Lilith – Mara

Cult of Lilith is one of those bands that are in the middle of what journalists and label blurb writers might call a ‘meteoric rise.’ Hailing from Iceland, the quintet has only one EP and no demos to their name since their inception in 2015. Yet Mara, their debut full-length, is already coming out through Metal Blade, one of the biggest labels in the business. On top of that, none other than semi-classical master painter and annual album art top 10 contestant Eliran Kantor delivered the ever excellent cover, and producer Dave Otero has such names as Cattle Decapitation, Archspire and Cephalic Carnage on his resume. There’s a lot of confidence backing the young band. Can they live up to the expectations?

Well, yes, but with notes. Cult of Lilith play a mixture of progressive death, technical death, and deathcore, drawing comparison to the divisive Xenobiotic from earlier this year. Yet the structural execution is quite different, leaning less on riffs and breakdowns and more on neoclassical flourishes and a wide range of unexpected musical twists all stuffed into a svelte 37 minutes. This band seems terrified of boring their audience, pulling tricks out of an entire crate full of hats. Opener “Cosmic Maelstrom” features touches of harpsichord, “Purple Tide” somehow works in a Hammond organ solo, “Profeta Paloma” has an honest to Jorn flamenco stanza like Allegaeon is so fond of, closer “Le Soupir de Fantome” adds operatic vocals over acoustic guitars while “Atlas” does the same in a more lamentational style, and so on. The vocals are similarly wide-ranging. The predominant styles are a well-executed deathcore roar and shriek, but there’s a variety of clean vocals as well, including a weirdly theatrical interlude in “Comatose” that reminds of The Offering.

The aversion to monotony is not ineffective, as Mara is a very varied album and every spin reveals something new. The first couple of run-throughs, the musical whiplash draws the attention the most, but the neoclassical solos, highly technical drumming and intricate performance on the fretless bass become more appreciable on repeat playthroughs. The bass in particular would not be as impactful without the solid mix, which nicely balances the storm of varied instruments and vocals. The mastering is a tad on the flat side, however, and does lack some personality, not standing out notably among big label tech or deathcore.

The only weak point of the album is the riffs, which often sacrifice memorability for complexity. When they do, they tend to blend into a wall of neoclassical noodling that resists sticking to the noggin for more than a minute at a time. In their fear of inducing boredom, the band seems to forget that a little repetition can be a good thing. When they do remember, as they do on the opener which has a deadly main riff of a quality not repeated elsewhere, the result is all the better for it. This problem is mitigated a fair amount by their bottomless bag of tricks, as they help break up the songs a little and make their structure more recognizable, but I’d gladly sacrifice some of the tricks (particularly the flamenco interlude – so far only Impureza has pulled off flamenco in death metal) for more memorable riffwork.

The result is an album that is a ton of fun to listen to, but has a nagging hollowness at its core that makes me think: it could have been much better. Cult of Lilith are a talented bunch, with excellent performances all around, and they absolutely deserve their big label debut release. The sheer amount of musical variety is highly entertaining, and the band is great at keeping you guessing. But if they intend to become a household name, they will need to improve on that last, fundamental bit of songwriting. Because in spite of all their other qualities, it’s the riffs that hold back Mara back from true greatness, and that is just a goddamn shame.

Rating: 3.5/5.0
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Metal Blade
Websites: | |
Releases Worldwide: September 4th, 2020

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