Salt Lake City hardcore act Cult Leader, born from the ashes of the venerable Gaza, have come forth with their debut LP Lightless Walk, available on cassette through Deathwish Inc. Overall, Lightless Walk oscillates between two extremes: near-grindcore intensity and oppressive, lurching sludge metal, with every shade of grey between the two explored. Both lyrically and musically, Cult Leader convey an unmistakable message of depression, rage, and nihilism.
Lightless Walk is effectively bookended by its extremes, beginning with the grinding and succinct “Great I Am” and concluding with the massive pairing of the sludgy, patiently-paced “How Deep It Runs” and title track “Lightless Walk.” The title track in particular showcases the emotional depths the band is capable of; beginning with a single, morose clean guitar, it gradually builds up into hypnotic drums, growling bass, lethargic, depressive clean vocals, and sluggish distorted guitar chords, setting a mood of tired hopelessness that it carries until the last note.
Cult Leader make ample use of experimentation outside of the usual hardcore formula, from the off-kilter rhythms, odd time signatures, and aberrant chromatic progression of “The Sorrower” to the skeletal guitar melodies accompanying somber clean vocals on “A Good Life” and the shrieking train horn dissonance on “Gutter Gods.” The album feels fresh yet coherent throughout its run time, utilizing its experimentation as a means to an end rather than an end in itself. All of this isn’t to say that Lightless Walk is a groundbreaking affair, but it doesn’t need to be; it’s a convincingly emotional, honest, cathartic, and well-executed debut LP from veteran musicians looking to leave their past behind them.