Ascetic Meditation of Death: homage to Hindu goddess falls short of respect


Cult of Fire, Ascetic Meditation of Death, Necroshrine Records, CD / Iron Bonehead  Productions, vinyl (2013)

In spite of the lurid artwork on the CD front cover and inside the booklet, and the English translation of the title as the rather alarming “Ascetic Meditation of Death”, this album, the second for Czech black metallers Cult of Fire, is actually a straightforward melodic recording straddling the divide between the alternative mainstream side of black metal and the underground. True, the album starts off with some sonorous Tibetan Buddhist monastic vocal droning and a parade of sitar and sitar-like guitar riffing and the last track picks up the Indian musical theme again but the bulk of the music is solid epic melodic BM songs. In fact, in the first track there’s a solo guitar playing a riff that I think I’ve heard on some other black metal album (probably one of Burzum’s as the sound is a little similar) in the distant past.

The album pays homage to the Hindu goddess Kali who represents an aspect of the primordial earth goddess as the bringer of change and destruction. I’ll assume for this review that Cult of Fire know the Hindu religion very well and aren’t just simply presenting a sensationalised view of Kali as a bloodthirsty and violent death goddess. The intent should be to reveal beneath the cloak of darkness and death what the goddess truly represents: the potential for transformation, sloughing off old forms and structures and destroying them to make way for rebirth, and the empowerment that this transformation offers the soul. As black metal itself is a genre that frequently visits the idea of transformation, even if in negative ways, the music is an ideal vehicle to explore the nature of Kali.

Apart from the opening and closing tracks and one instrumental piece, the music features little Indian instrumentation or musical structures: it starts off fast and aggressive, and in each song listeners will hear a dizzying package of melodies and rhythms all switching back and forth, and a mix of speeds and moods. One constant is the solidity and sharpness of the music: though the guitars are shrill and fast, the sound is never thin. The CoF guys buy real kamagra uk aren’t afraid to include a Hammond organ on some tracks but fortunately the potential cartoon cheese factor that Hammond organs bring with them isn’t very prominent on early songs. The vocals are very savage and almost slaveringly inhuman: they may be the best element in the music at this point, even when I take the raw guitars and the drumming into account. The musicians go for broke on most tracks with deranged playing with screeching and roaring in the background, yet their playing is very precise, riffs are very clear and chainsaw sharp, and most songs have plenty of dark space behind the instruments.

As the album progresses, the music starts to slow down and at this point starts to feel repetitive. Tracks 5 and 6 seem as if we’ve heard them earlier in the album and on track 6 a bit of cartoony Temple-of-Doom ambience crashes in with a gong bash. The musicians try to go for something a bit psychedelic and extreme, and up to a point the crazed eccentricity succeeds but the song can’t quite shake off a certain cartoony quality. The singing becomes bombastic and shouty which doesn’t help. It gets worse on track 7 where the vocal is so exaggerated in its bombast that I feel quite embarrassed for the band while listening to the whole song. There are moments there where the music goes round and round in circles and sounds uninspired.

I’d have liked this album to be truly awe-inspiring, savage in attack and menacing in mood; instead a lot of fat accumulates after the first half of the recording is done and the energy and aggression start to falter in parts. At this point the sillier aspects of CoF’s style come to the fore: the singing becomes buffoonish while the earlier abrasive guitars become smoother and quite tame. It’s ironic that the band runs out of puff on the second part of the album because this is the bit where the true nature of Kali as the guide to change, destruction and transformation should have been revealed and the goddess becomes a benevolent force and guide to humanity on its path towards enlightenment.

Contact: Necroshrine Records, Iron Bonehead Productions

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