Mental Cruelty

Starting as a standard brutal death metal/slam band, Germany’s started adding some keyboards around 2019’s Inferis, but it was for 2021’s excellent A Hill to Die Upon, where they went full-on symphonic deathcore, and on the heels of Lorna Shore‘s genre igniting Immortal, comparisons to Lorna Shore were inevitable…. and warranted.

However, they also had some unfortunate Lorna Shore-ish similarities outside of the music, when they had ……issues…. with then vocalist Lucca Schmerler. And, like Lorna  Shore who revealed new vocalist Will Ramos to the world with “To the Hellfire”, Mental Cruelty released the first single “Symphony of a Dying Star” with new vocalist Lukas Nikolia, earlier this year.

Now, while Lukas delivered a fine vocal performance with his rasps, shrieks, and now standard super deep, snarled, pig squeals (and some decent clean vocals which surface on a couple of other songs too), it was the band’s slight shift in musical direction that divided fans a little. The band leaned even harder into the ‘blackened’ part of blackened deathcore, with even more epic orchestration and more grandiose, bouncy, melodic 90s black/death metal riffage and structures akin to say a band like Assemble the Chariots. Some fans even compared them to Children of Bodom. A legit gripe/comparison if you ask me. Personally, I thought it was an utterly brilliant song, and remains one of my favorite songs of the year. But how is the rest of the album?

Absolutely fucking phenomenal.

The ‘blacker’ elements are indeed noticeably increased throughout, with some brilliant symphonic bombast, riffs, and time changes that could easily have been on any of Dimmu Borgir’s classic three-word albums of the late 90s/early 00s. Just listen to the killer opener “Obsessis a Daemonio” or the opening march of “Forgotten Kings” (with a video cementing the black metal imagery with robes and corpsepaint), pure black metal of “Nordlys” and especially personal favorites the blisteringly melodic “Mortal Shells” (the little orchestral flourishes are just to die for- and show the band’s nuanced evolution) and the aforementioned soaring grandeur of “Symphony of a Dying Star”, which transitions gorgeously from the acoustic interlude “Zwielicht” (twilight), with the same refrain- it’s brilliantly done.

That all said, Mental Cruelty does still manage to deliver plenty of crumbling, overbearing modern deathcore breakdowns as well (“Forgotten Kings” in particular has a fucking massive breakdown), though they tend to feel a bit shoehorned in considering the direction of 80% of the material. And sometimes they do tend to get into more ’emotional’ Lorna Shore-ish territory with some of the more standard deathcore structures like “Pest”, “Arrogance of Agony” or “A Tale of Salt and Light” which has some melodies and riffs that come dangerously close to sounding like something on Pain Remains, though still excellent songs.

But as a complete album, which ends with the still killer, 7 +minute “A Tale of Salt and Light”,  Zwielicht is clearly the album to beat in the blackened /symphonic deathcore genre in 2023, and adds to Century Media’s standout deathcore stable. The only competition I see comes from Worm Shepherd, but it’s going to take something truly special to top this as  Zwielicht has album-of-the-year potential.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Erik T
June 12th, 2023


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