If there is one thing that separates Cult Leader from most other bands out there, it’s how much of an inspiration they are; not only as a sonic force, but as an example of triumphant reinvention. Following the infamous dissolution of Gaza in 2013, three-quarters of the band opted to start from scratch and regroup as Cult Leader. Michael Mason, Casey Hansen and Anthony Lucero recruited bassist Sam Richards and they hit the ground running – signing with Deathwish, releasing stellar aggressive music and touring extensively. Their story is well-known by now, but what’s important to note is that it’s a transition that not many bands survive, let alone while gaining the amount of support that Cult Leader have managed to attain so quickly. Their success is impressive and rightfully earned, to say the least.
Now, after the release of their extremely well-received 2014 debut EP, Nothing for Us Here, and their recent three-song EP, Useless Animal, the Salt Lake City, UT act are offering up their highly-anticipated full-length, Lightless Walk. The first impression of the album is a jarring one; it’s not quite what I expected, but that’s surprisingly not at all a negative assertion. Cult Leader are clearly moving further away from the sound that defined Gaza, embracing more of a hardcore style while maintaining their chaotic aggression. “Great I Am” starts the record off with furious grind-filled noise that carries into “The Sorrower,” which is interspersed with moments of heavy, crushing rhythms. “Sympathetic” is abrasive and discordant throughout, while “Suffer Louder” goes from fierce and visceral to intense and groovy before leading into the powerful attack that is the hostile “Broken Blades.”
Then the entire vibe of Lightless Walk changes with “A Good Life.” The track is melodic, filled with dark and depressive tones, featuring Lucero’s deep and haunting vocals, which is reminiscent of the Useless Animal EP’s Mark Kozelek and Desertshore cover. The dynamics switch once again as “A Good Life” builds up a thunderous pace that continues on throughout the technical “Walking Wasteland” and menacing “Gutter Gods.” “Hate Offering” is harsh and vehement, featuring piercing feedback and dense riffs, while “How Deep it Runs” is anchored with ominous thudding drums and droning guitar work. The title-track is a soft and slow lament, which closes the album on a beautifully gloomy, melancholic note.
Lightless Walk is diverse, raw and messy, yet focussed, cohesive and outstandingly executed. It is immensely obvious with this release that the band have found their niche, which is rooted in metallic hardcore, but they’ve honed their sound into something distinct and completely their own. Cult Leader continue to defy the odds and surpass expectations, and Lightless Walk is a stunning testament to the band’s incredible skill and unwavering dedication.