Back in 2016, Gloryful, a “true metal/heavy metal” act from Germany, released End of the Night, a record that capably demonstrated that heavy metal without energy isn’t really heavy metal. That record, while far from gripping, did display hints of promise here and there, suggestions that with a renewed focus, the band could put out something really engaging. Over two years later, Gloryful returns with Cult of Sedna, their fourth full-length, and the question looms: that energy, that “aspect above and beyond” that was absent last time. Is it back? Is it here?
I’ll cut the suspense early: yes, it is. Where End of the Night suffered from a lack of conveyed energy, Cult of Sedna delivers. After the instrumental opener, “The Oath” and “Brothers in Arms” offer good reasons to keep listening; strong choruses, electric leads, and an engaging “brothers in arms” theme that persists throughout the album. These opening tracks are promising, fun songs you can nod your head along with. The riffing is interesting, if not always exciting, and Hartmut Stoof’s drumming is energetic, loud and clear. Everything sounds good, and Cult of Sedna picks up steam quickly as it begins charging through its 45-minute run time.
Cult of Sedna never really loses its momentum, thanks to strong performances and a production job that highlights them. In particular, guitarists Adrian Weiss and Jens Basten offer sharp, engaging guitar work throughout. Whether the two guitarists are dueling leads or riffing to support La Bomba’s vocals, they sound great. Around halfway through “Desert Stranger,” I was prepared to write the song off as nothing special. Then a captivating solo won me over. “Sinners & Saints” sees the two guitarists working especially well together for a rewarding journey that has quickly become my favorite on the album. Although there is a guitar solo on nearly every song, these never feel tired or tacked on. Bassist Daniel Perl fills out the bottom end nicely and performs a “solo” of his own in “My Sacrifice.”1 The clear production means that everyone in the band shines in Cult of Sedna. The drums are a bit high in the mix and the bass is a bit low, but it’s hard to complain about the overall sound on an album that conveys energy and allows every player to be heard.
At the head of this Sednan cult is vocalist Johnny La Bomba, who offers something of a mixed performance. Gloryful’s sound demands charisma and aggression; La Bomba’s delivery is neither charismatic enough nor aggressive enough to provide consistency. Instead, he wanders around the middle ground between the two ideals. He does have a good voice for this music — the chorus in “The Oath” was an immediate winner to my ears, and the pre-chorus in “Void of Tomorrow” hits exactly the right tone thanks to his low, hoarse singing. When the actual chorus lands, however, he sounds like he can’t quite hit the high notes he’s aiming for. A similar issue brings down the chorus in “Desert Stranger,” and this lack of charisma rears its head intermittently throughout the album. Occasionally, he does succeed with the aggressive side (His delivery of “True ’til death — ’til the fucking end of time!” on the eponymous track is perfect), but not often enough. The end result is that La Bomba is good without ever really being exemplary, an average performance that could have been so much more.
Throughout Cult of Sedna, I found I was enjoying myself without really getting sucked in. Gloryful have crafted a good album, and a significant improvement over their last effort. There isn’t anything here I’d call excellent or exemplary, but there is energy and there is fun. While there is certainly still room for improvement, I have enjoyed my time with the Cult of Sedna and will be coming back for more.