I’m unsure what others seek when choosing their favorite annual album, for those taken with such trivialities, that is. As far my tastes go, as one who savors hardcore punk confections, I tend to repetitiously consume what I find heaviest in caloric breakdowns and sweet earnestness. Basic genre tenets, really. Every so many years, a wrench is thrown into my eating habits, breaking my teeth, my nose, my general face, before fissuring into my brain itself. Cult Leader has garnered that kind of reputation with me. They hew close to hardcore, sure, but they’re pretty crusty too, with even some sludge oozing in here and there. Each of their releases has distanced them from convention, further into elusive territory where bands deny classification in favor of crafting a truly unique sound. Be assured, A Patient Man will be Cult Leader’s defining album.
As someone who spent 2015 enamored with Lightless Walk, from its tone to its artwork, everything about second LP A Patient Man checks those aesthetics. The difference is in the execution, and oh dear do these 10 tracks execute. “I Am Healed,” the album’s debut and opening track, is a wrathful, commanding four minutes that smothers anything off Lightless Walk. This song is a motherfucker, replete with teeth-gritting vocals and venom-drenched guitars that are capped by an ending breakdown that embarrasses any other attempts at heaviness made this year. “Curse of Satisfaction” is as feral, a serrated darkness swelling with the same unhinged heft as “I Am Healed,” though its own closure is marked with an exacting, raucous death blow.
A Patient Man works within two extremes, with its first two entries definitive of the spastic misanthropy that has dominated Cult Leader’s discography. Lightless Walk and Useless Animal featured prolonged moments of pensive death rock, with such musings being counted among their best songs. With third track “Isolation in the Land of Milk and Honey” we arrive at the album’s stylistic crossroad, where said street’s blood-soaked paving gives way to a glassy downpour. Surging from the roiling terror that was “Curse of Satisfaction,” the berserk rage collapses into waves of soothing melody, a moment that demands appreciation for the songwriting at hand.
“To: Achlys” is a work of pure catharsis, demonstrating that no matter how immediate or contemplative Cult Leader is in that moment, you sure as fuck feel it. This is telegraphed with cinematic flourish via the song’s accompanying video, where a worn man rests his weary head on death’s literal lap, only for her personified fingers to despairingly rake his scalp like a distraught mother to beaten son. No moment in music this year has moved me quite like these sounds and images. This ache passes into the sunless horizons found in “A World of Joy,” which comes screaming out of the sedate intermission in its last 90 seconds with the cadence of a quickening heart, only to explode into thunderous sludge metal.
“Craft of Mourning” continues the bloodletting initiated by “I Am Healed,” breaking into A Patient Man’s second half as the first of a trio of burnt crust hardcore entries. “Share My Pain” and “Aurum Reclusa” are crafted to carve mosh pits from unsuspecting crowds, with their circling breaks and snarling hooks snapping like predators at prey heels. The title song treads the familiar existential water as “To: Achlys,” though its strokes are less effecting, with only its final three minutes eliciting a tugging of those prone heartstrings. “The Broken Right Hand of God” is all fluid doom metal working at operatic heights, punctuating an already exhausting listen with painful sincerity. Existing between the tumultuous gravity of A Patient Man’s warring poles, this is as raw a finale as Cult Leader can offer. Here we find every sacrifice laid bare, with each hammering or melodic passage as savage or frail as any whole preceding track.
I have said much here about the antithetical climates within which Cult Leader has long operated. Much ado has been made about how effortless their output is within the frigidity of their brooding epics or the scorch of their mammalian punk. All that can be said at this point is how exhausting and overwhelming this album is, how it grips you to your breaking point until its parting gasp. A Patient Man is that rare primal art that magnifies humanity, reshaping that natural ugliness into a form once more terrifying and beautiful.
A Patient Man will be released by Deathwish Inc. on November 9th.