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Release date: September 18, 2015
Finland’s To/Die/For are a bit of an enigma. Since their debut in 1999 they have been creating some of the best dark rock music that most of the world has never heard, and the fact that they haven’t achieved mainstream success in the US has always puzzled me. Their brand of gothic rock emphasizes the rock aspect or their approach to making moody music. Rather than the dark posturing of bands like My Life With The Thrill Kill Cult or the over the top shock value of the Valor Kand led Christian Death, To/Die/For makes powerful music that has a dark, threatening thread that weaves through each song, while still being a top notch rock band. Cult, the band’s seventh release, proves this is just as true as ever.
The drum intro and driving guitars of opening track “In Black” set a tone that falls somewhere between metal, melodic rock, and gloomy textures. Guitarists Juppe Sutela and Eza Viren alternate between creating massive walls of thick chording and adding layers of harmonized guitar lines, adding texture and atmosphere. “Screaming Birds” follows a similar path, with vocalist Jape Perätalo passionately baring his soul over the strong foundation created by the rhythm section of Samuel Schildt (bass) and Matti Huopainen (drums) while the aforementioned guitar team provides both muscle and beauty. “Unknown III” adds keyboards to the mix in a way that flows from orchestral sounds during verses, and a bit of darkwave glory during choruses. Through it all, To/Die/For remains firmly in the rock tradition, while bending it to their dark will.
For those who want a more traditional goth approach, “Mere Dreams” opens with a soft piano riff over ethereal keyboards and significantly gloomy lyrics. Distorted guitars seem almost an afterthought, until this track segues into the tense riffing of “You,” a dark rocker with a majestic chorus. “End of Tears” is more traditional goth fare, being more akin to the more recent works of Christian Death (think a more tortured “Dexter Said No to Methadone” off of 2007’s American Inquisition) or perhaps the slow, heavy doom of Type O Negative a la 1993’s “Suspended In Dusk” from the breakthrough Bloody Kisses album. Overall, To/Die/For is gothic rock in the tradition of bands like Pyogenesis who are recognized as the founding fathers of the genre. Cult mixes dark imagery and textures with heavy guitars and a dose of gloom-laden melody in a way that is a lost art to all but those who perfected it in the first place.
I have never been let down by a To/Die/For release, and Cult is no exception. The mix of driving guitars and airy textures allows this album to take the listener on a ride from the rage of vengeance through the isolation of quiet introspection, all without allowing room to stop for a ragged breath. As a guy who rarely listens to an album straight through, but picks and chooses highlights, the fact that I can listen to Cult over and over without ever skipping a track says a lot about the power of this release. This is an album to immerse oneself in, let go, and be taken for a ride through bleak landscapes of mighty rock and fragile grace.
Reviewed by Jim 1340