Culted – Oblique to all Paths

Genre: Black/Doom Metal | Label: Relapse Records
Location: Winnipeg, Manitoba | Listen: Bandcamp

From the Canadian prairie city of Winnipeg comes Culted, a band that play a unique concoction of doom and black metal with various experimental elements thrown in for good measure. Culted doesn’t seem to play live – their vocalist lives overseas in Sweden, and had never met any of the Canadian members until very recently. “Oblique to all Paths” is the band’s second full length, and it’s one of those albums just seems perfect for a gloomy, grey day. The dreadful Canadian winter that blankets cities like Winnipeg comes through in this music, with it’s slow dirges and eerie atmosphere that seethes throughout the record. I discovered this band a handful of years ago through some of the members’ other bands, and this record has found itself in my listening rotation many times since.

First thing I should note is the length of this album. It’s long, and I tend to to prefer albums that stick to a single LP in length. However, this style of music naturally lends itself to being drawn out – it is doom metal, after all, and atmosphere is the name of the game. Individual parts don’t necessarily feel like they’re repeated to the point of redundancy, but there is certainly an element of ebb and flow here, with Culted taking the appropriate amount of time to build things up. The opening track, “Brooding Hex,” is almost 20 minutes long, and takes this approach to the extreme, and certainly does sound brooding with darkness.

The song that really sold me on this record is the second track, “Illuminati.” It gets into that heavy Neurosis territory of sludge/post-metal, but it sounds far more horrifying. There’s also a healthy dose of industrial metal in their approach to groove and pacing that makes me think of Godflesh at their most monolithic. The main riff in the aforementioned song really combines the two influences well, with a Godflesh like rhythm and Neurosis like leads over top of it. The transitions between songs get kind of noisy and create these unsettling soundscapes that again remind me of Neurosis. The vocals give it this really harsh and evil tone, which is something that could be associated with their vocalist coming from Scandinavia. At times, they seem to get overdriven/distorted, and it just makes this stuff sound even uglier.

Another element that really keeps me coming back to “Oblique to all Paths” is the use of modulation effects on the guitar leads. Despite the down tempo approach of these songs, Culted manage to create a ton of dynamics by placing in all sounds of strange sounds on top of them, and just generally experimenting with cool sounding effects. “Transmittal” is a great example of this – there are some cleaner guitars soaked in a chorus effect and with a delay on it. It’s a simple part, but it breaks up the song nicely, and sounds really chilling. The use of dissonant melody and clashy, diminished chords is extremely tasteful, almost like a more industrial feeling Deathspell Omega at times. “March of the Wolves” gets super eerie too with some higher arpeggios drenched in more effects that gently feedback out once they are finished.

Furthering the dynamics of this record, the production really helps. When things are quieter or building up, they feel like an open abyss. Conversely, when it’s time to be loud and heavy, it hits particularly hard with layers of rhythm guitar coming together. Despite the dense guitar tones in parts like this, the bass still manages to cut through with a grimy pulse, and I must emphasize the Godflesh influence on how the bass works with these songs. The drums on this record also sound extremely natural and balanced. The mix is very much focused on creating huge sounds with the layers of guitar and whatever else is coming in to create atmospheres, but the drums never get lost but are also never distracting. Sometimes they throw in some delays on the drums to further that industrial feel, and it’s super effective.

If you’ve ever wanted to hear a bleaker version of Neurosis, look no further than Culted. This record feels cold, dreary, and soul crushing, and is absolutely perfect for those days where the world just feels grey. The balance of heavy, eerie, and experimental parts on this record are well balanced, and all serve towards a greater dynamic that is as satisfying as it is unsettling. “Oblique to all Paths” was the bands’ last release with Relapse, as the band has gone onto work with Season of Mist (and are currently recording their fourth record at the time of writing this). That being said, this 2014 release has been my favourite from Culted thus far, but I certainly look forward to hear what other sonic hellscapes this band comes up with.