When your parents said to follow your passion, I don’t think they meant for you to throw on a zip-up face mask, sling a taxidermy animal over your shoulder, and become a fucking weirdo. Yet that’s exactly what The Lion’s Daughter have done on third album Future Cult, and the result is sure to confound anyone familiar with the band previously. Formed in 2007, this St. Louis trio used to play what could loosely be described as blackened sludge, albeit with a heavy emphasis on the “black” and a peculiar fascination with the grotesque. 2016’s Existence Is Horror was a perfect example, sounding something like Neurosis meets Lord Mantis meets the terrifying philosophical nightmare of a Thomas Ligotti story.1 A few months after its release, vocalist and guitarist Rick Giordano did an op-ed piece for Invisible Oranges where he discussed how American horror films were finally getting good again. At the time I didn’t think much of it, but it’s now become apparent just how much of this horror film Kool-Aid he and his band drank.
I hereby propose the following axiom: as a band’s career continues, the probability that they will begin incorporating synthesizers approaches one. Likewise, the probability that said band’s music will improve with the use of synthesizers is virtually zero. This, my friends, is what makes Future Cult such a pleasant surprise. The menacing guitars, commanding roars, and pummeling drums of Daughter’s past work are still here, but atop it all are prominent synthesizers pulled straight from an 80s horror film. That’s right, Future Cult sounds like a black metal version of a John Carpenter score.
That seems great already, but what truly sets Cult apart is how these synths are used as much more than just a gimmick. Early highlight “Call the Midnight Animal”2 avoids Fleshgod syndrome by deftly balancing its twisted riffs and electronic flourishes, each dancing amongst the other and taking turns in the spotlight before a sludgy avalanche brings it all crashing down. The deceptively catchy “Die Into Us” takes a different but equally successful approach, using its repeating synth line as the tree trunk from which harrowing riffs and shifting rhythms grow like gnarled branches. Later, “Grease Infant” sounds like Dark Tranquillity’s Haven overrun by blackened sludge, complete with wailing electronics and driving beats that belie its tale of a botched abortion.
It’s an enjoyable formula made even better by the ample variety. Much of the “The Gown” is a welcome instrumental break, with its haunting clean picking and foreboding ambiance making it possibly the creepiest song ever written about a nightgown. “Tragedy” recalls a blackened Tool with its otherworldly atmosphere and slowed tempo, while “Galaxy Ripper” is a short dissonant blaster that serves as a battering counterpoint. Through it all, drummer Erik Ramsier does an excellent job shifting between throttling tempos and smashing post-punk beats, even throwing in some tribal buildups. Likewise, Giordano has a slimy urgency to his riffs, supplementing them with some occasional slick melodies and a desperate rasp that evokes Vattnet Viskar.
Yet Cult is not without flaws. Many of the synth parts sound similar, and more memorable melodies would have helped. Though the songwriting has tightened up since Existence, some tracks still feel like a collection of parts that never reach their full potential, with “Suicide Market” being the most notable example. There are plenty of great ideas here, but Daughter don’t always know how to build them into an effective climax. Even “In the Flesh,” while standing out for its thunderous sludge riffs and “Terror in the flesh!” vocal hook, lacks the emotional resolution you’d expect from an album closer. Fortunately, the production does a good job balancing the mechanical guitars and piercing synths, with the punchy drums delivering delightfully distinct bass hits.
I’ve often thought there are essentially two ways for a band to progress: get better or get weirder. On Future Cult, The Lion’s Daughter have managed both. While there are still kinks to be worked out, the band have maintained their unsettling aura while becoming more original and interesting, not to mention boldly experimenting with a formula that could have easily gone awry. Cult is not a good album because it’s different; it’s a good album because it’s genuinely captivating, and it makes me more excited than ever for what the band will deliver next.3
- It also holds a special place for me as possibly the only album AMG and I have both liked. ↩
- Which, despite its title, is not about phoning Steel for late night dad metal recs. ↩
- I also just have to include this quote from the promo blurb, because it’s possibly the most badass endorsement ever: “The Lion’s Daughter don’t just play as if they want to see this world end, their sound implies that they want to be the ones to destroy it.” Fuck. Yes. ↩