The sitar is not a guitar but Cult Of Fire betray their hand by using it as just such on the very first song on Ascetic Meditation Of Death. Blasting strains of black metal – though let it be stated in no uncertain terms that this album is only a doppelganger for black metal – in the old Norwegian vein with subtle counterpoint melody underneath initially greet the listener, but soon lapse into a chorus section where the sitar acts as second voice playing a recursive riff in a role usually occupied by the traditional electric guitar. The question inquisitive listeners are liable to ask is why bring in an “exotic” instrument in the first place if it isn’t going to be used to expand the ideological and musical gambit of the genre? Why this need to flaunt different textures if not to pull in a crowd easily sated by surface overtures?
A good 90% of the people one interacts with on a daily basis are perfectly content with the status quo as long as it is fed down their throats in a subtly enough different form. Actual revolution on the material plane is rare, granted, but it is the mental lassitude that chafes; by giving priceless approval to the same moribund ideas dressed in shiny, new wrapping, the masses get to delude themselves into thinking that they are equal participants in the vanguard of progress of whatever niche movement they profess allegiance to.
One would think that an outsider genre like metal would be exempt from this behaviour but the inordinate applause bestowed on bands like Cult Of Fire suggests otherwise. There is no shame in observing tradition but a vast number of modern metal fans have bought into the idea that the genre needs to evolve at any cost to remain relevant. This isn’t an unreasonable claim but their definition of evolution remains vague at best and hackneyed for the most part; evolution, if any, has to happen in concert with tradition, at an intellectual, compositional and extra-cosmetic level. If such a thing is beyond the reach of a band, and it is just so for many, then they are better suited to making conventional metal more focused on emotion and coherence. Breaking new ground is not necessarily a virtue but purporting to innovation without actually innovating anything is certainly a cynical vice.
On an instrumental level, Cult Of Fire are obvious thoroughbreds showcasing skill over different styles of musical expression. But as closely as these people might approximate the most obvious trimmings of black metal, the heart of their music remains more at home on a Eurovision stage. It is no exaggeration to say that some of the parts found here could easily slot into a Def Leppard album from the eighties or on the soundtrack to a fantasy film from the same era like The Never Ending Story.
This is no crime in isolation but the paradigm in which Cult Of Fire pretend to operate, outwardly black metal, renders it artistically inconsequential and, worse yet, insincere. There are certain primal, mental impressions that a work of black metal ought to begin with, before the first musical note is even conceptualized, for it to have any weight and credibility. These impressions then spread out to envelop and penetrate and become one with the music that follows in their wake.
Cult Of Fire don’t seem to possess any such gut-level impressions. Their music is one of prettily-designed nuggets of no binding integrity, but molded with artificial garnish to appeal to the undemanding listener. Rock, pop, jazz, black metal; what could be better for a fast food world than a little of everything rolled into one convenient package?