Death metal has been inundated with numerous flavorings throughout its storied history, from extreme technical complexity to almost pop-friendly melodicism. But the untainted brand has always carried the same adjectives: brutal, nasty and mean. A major player in the field were my countrymen Pestilence, particularly with their sophomore album Consuming Impulse. Until they stopped doing what they did best anyway. Then-vocalist Martin Van Drunen, with his anguished, slavering cries put the band on the map, his style often imitated but never transcended. Now, another imitator has arisen from the fields of Ireland by the name of Zealot Cult. Can they do justice to their idols, or will idolatry lead to naught but broken effigies?
To be fair, Pestilence is not the sole inspiration for the succinct chunk of brutality that is Spiritual Sickness. It’s merely the most obvious, thanks to vocalist Jay Quigely. He sticks quite close to Van Drunen’s slobbering screams and spit-flecked rasps, albeit in a slightly lower register. He’s an absolute asset to the band though, with great voice box control, allowing him to really lean into gasped, lurching syllables that truly paint a picture of a man enduring horrific torture. Instrumentally, the band sheds most of the thrash elements of early Pestilence in favor of Floridian tremolo blasting. The performances are tight across the board and their chemistry feels lived-in. Though this is their debut, the band has reportedly existed in some form since 2008, so that might explain how they manage to sound like an old school death metal band on their fourth or fifth release.
With their affection toward the old school and their obvious skill, Zealot Cult produced a banquet of OSDM love with a modern sheen. “Servi Ad Deum” is a rollicking beast with Obituary as the central back patch on its battle jacket. Morbid Angel speaks through the angular riffing on “Blades of Jihad.” Bits and bobs of various other acts can be gleaned from the host of influences on Spiritual Sickness, and a well-read death fan can spend a jolly night picking out all the stylistic references. But therein lies my only real quibble with the album: it sounds like a lot of other bands, and never definitively like Zealot Cult. This is more like a collage of very well-written and craftily integrated material from other bands, and I miss an element that would give the band a personality of their own.
I should stress that calling it a collage is being facetious, though. Despite the lack of a unique personality, this is a very consistent album. There are no real weak cuts, and the songwriting is devoid of fat, cutting to the chase efficiently and wrapping up in a tidy 42 minutes. This professional attitude is reflected in the production as well. The master hovers somewhere in between old school fuzz and modern clarity, with the dual guitars providing the lion’s share of the former, up until the sharp solos that pepper the album. I always push for better bass presence, but considering the genre I am happy that it’s discernible at all. Although the drums could use a bigger punch, the mix and master are generally solid and suit the band well.
Zealot Cult is just one of those bands that have everything going for them, except doing anything new. The songwriting is catchy, brutal and lean. The instrumentation is on point, with a solid mixture of pummeling riffs and scorching leads played with excellent synergy. The vocals are grueling yet skillful. Even the production leaves little to complain about, though hardcore OSDM heads may find it too modern. There’s just not that much that gives the band their own identity, functioning more as a homage to classic death metal than their own entity. How big a flaw this is will vary from person to person, and if you’re a relentless devourer of all things death metal you will indubitably get your money’s worth from Spiritual Sickness. I still hope Zealot Cult will find a sound of their own for the sophomore release.