Cult of Fire are described as “the new Czech masters of atmospheric black metal,” following in the tradition of forebears like Master’s Hammer and Root. A lofty statement, but once you hear Triumvirát, it’s an undeniable one as well. (And if those names aren’t enough for you, drummer Tom Coroner also led a previous life as half of the long-gone but still highly respected progressive death metal act Lykathea Aflame.)
Triumvirát, like its cover art, blends the stark with the regal for a heightened and cinematic effect. Sure, the Black Mass stuff reeks of extravagant showmanship (especially in the wake of Ghost‘s fantastic onstage antics), but it also harkens back to great 70s horror like Rosemary’s Baby or The Omen, which is why it makes such an impact. The band is already gaining a reputation for an impressive and highly visual live show as well. And the music – rich, raw and full of terror, melody, groove and atmosphere – is an hour of some of the best black metal I’ve heard all year.
“Zavet Svetu” opens the album with a swirling haze of eerie keys and fuzzy, wandering guitars before hands are thrown high to the blackened sky, the clouds rush in overhead, the ground cracks and splits apart – and all of Hell’s fury comes blazing up from the depths in a spiraling tower of destruction. And then, cue the creepy churchyard organs and dirge-like march, which instantly transforms this from just another raw, blistering assault into something more atmospheric and dramatic. Good stuff, but it’s not until the song changes again in its third section that I realize how special this band is going to be.
After the midway march concludes, “Zavet Svetu” crests into another storm of blastbeats, but it’s joined by a gorgeous and tragic tremolo guitar line. It’s a wonderfully dynamic and surprising evolution, and a good sign that Triumvirát will be an album full of excellent, entertaining compositions. The inclusion of transcendent melody also reminds me of Dekadent, from nearby Slovenia, except that Cult of Fire have an altogether darker presence, what with the whole priests of Hell thing going on.
The Root and Master’s Hammer heritage, as promised, is there loud and clear throughout Triumvirát as well. The vocals are ragged and bestial, the guitar tone fuzzy and filthy, and on songs like “Horizont Temnoty,” “Z Jicnu Propasti” and “Sluhove Vecneho” (the best, ahem, triumvirate of songs I’ve heard this year), Cult of Fire achieve that same alien, shambling groove. “Z Jicnu Propasti” in particular just destroys with its shaggy, monstrous main riff (and an actual, needle-burying explosion) and equally bloodthirsty vocals before progressing into a series of classic, headbanging grooves that will transport you back to the black days of Ritual and The Temple in the Underworld or even Under the Sign of the Black Mark before that.
I also have to call out the fantastic, restrained and tasteful use of atmospherics throughout the album. In addition to the occasional use of churchyard organs (a far cry from the gaudy, heavy gothic keys of so many melodic black metal bands of the late 90s), there are moaning choirs and keening, Goblin-esque synths (theremin or something similar) woven throughout the songs at just the right moments. (One song in particular, “Cerna Aura,” is nothing but atmosphere and discordant chaos, but it’s still listenable – closer to Leviathan than Deathspell Omega, and as terrifying as both). Again, it’s the well-paced, strong and interesting compositions that really make this all work. A heavy-handed approach with atmosphere could have toppled the whole thing into parody, and that does not happen here. Triumvirát, right down to its triumphant instrumental closing title track, stays classy all the way.
There are plenty of bands who are channeling smoky, post-Summer of Love Satanic mysticism these days, from the folky rituals of Jex Thoth to the cheeky kitsch of Ghost to the bluesy and psychedelic darkness of The Devil’s Blood. Cult of Fire isn’t quite in the same gaping, upturned vein as any of them, as they’re far more raw and dangerous and definitely more black metal. Yet they share the same sense of drama and danger, especially with their inclusion of tragic melody as a counterpoint to their raw and brutal explosions.
Triumvirát is one of my favorite discoveries of the year, and Cult of Fire is a band that is quickly destined to join the ranks of Drudkh and Negura Bunget (and Dordeduh) as one of Eastern Europe’s premier metal acts.[Visit the band's website]