By Samuel Stevens
Release Date: September 4, 2020
Genre: Technical Death Metal, Symphonic Death Metal
Label: Metal Blade Records
Iceland’s Cult of Lilith have been writing and recording their debut record over the past two years after solidifying their now current line up. The band’s debut album, Mara, is a unique blend of death metal, prog, and classical music styles. With no creative limit in front of the band, they seemingly share similarities to the symphonic death metal band Fleshgod Apocalypse, and a slew of other bands under the large death metal umbrella. Nonetheless, Cult of Lilith bleed their own brilliance into their songwriting and sound to make the album what truly makes Cult of Lilith stand out over the rest. Mara was recorded at two separate studios, the first being Dutch Ice Productions where the album’s drums were tracked. While everything else was tracked at guitarist Kristján Jóhann Júlíusson’s own Krummafótur Studio. Cult of Lilith’s debut album was produced by Chris van der Valk (Hail of Bullets, Prejudice), then mixed and mastered by Dave Otero (Cephalic Carnage, Cattle Decapitation).
Cult of Lilith was founded in Reykjavik, Iceland in 2015 with Daniel Þór Hannesson as the band’s sole member, the guitarist went on to hire both a session drummer and vocalist to create their debut EP, Arkanum. By 2018 the band solidified their line up with the addition of vocalist Mario Infantes Ávalos. The band gets their name from Jewish folklore. The story of the demonic figure Lilth is both deep and fascinating, with a plethora of different interpretations told over the years. Lilith is thought to be derived from the class of Mesopotamian demons known as Lilû, females known as Lilītu. The name is usually translated as night monster. Lilth is sometimes depicted to be Adam’s first wife, as well as the mother of Cain. In seventh century CE, a cult associated with Lilith survived among the Jews. Additionally, she appears in many different religions, mythologies, and folklore, dating back to ancient Mesopotamia, Sumer, and the Babylonian Talmud. In Hebrew tradition, she is seen as a daemoness that attacked babies, causing their untimely deaths, and in some texts she appears as a night demon that influenced men in their dreams or as a disease bearing spirit. There are many more interpretations of Lilith that can be researched online, in texts, and so forth.
When it came down to deciding a title for their debut album, Cult of Lilith turned to their native tongue. Mara is deprived from the Icelandic word Martröð, meaning nightmare. According to old Icelandic folklore, Mara is a malicious entity that sits on people’s chests while they’re in deep slumber, bringing on nightmares. The myth of Mara mirrors some similarities with that of Lilith. Along with the lyrical content on Mara, which seem like an assortment of different dreams and nightmares, it was the most fitting title for the band to pick for their debut record.
As aforementioned earlier, Mara is an amalgamation of death metal, progressive metal, and complex classical music structures, and much more. Both Hannesson and Júlíusson are perfectionists and the band went overboard with tracking until the guitars execution was flawless. The band had the intention to write a diverse record that drew from several influences and blending them as one. Cult of Lilith wanted the album to be a journey that never becomes stagnant and leaves the listeners engaged throughout the album’s eight tracks. As many bands and artists before them, they did not want to force themselves into one specific sound or genre. They wanted the album to be as diverse as possible and they certainly achieved that on Mara.
Mara opens up with the brutal track, “Cosmic Maelstrom.” The album’s lead single opens with a huge harpsichord intro before the track erupts into a frenzy with blistering riffs from both Hannesson and Júlíusson, blast beats from drummer Kjartan Harðarson, and deep guttural growls by Ávalos. The title of the track lives up to its name as it shifts and turns many times throughout its five minute and forty-eight second length. The second single, “Purple Tide,” brings the first taste of the album’s musical diversity to the forefront. Beginning off with a menacing synth reminiscent of the theme song to the Netflix television series Stranger Things, leading the song to be much different than its predecessor. At its core, it’s another death metal track, but its got an remarkable groove metal vibe at times with its melodic guitars and groovy, yet chuggy riffs. The many other instruments and most importantly the organ plastered in near the ending of the track pleasantly catch you off guard.
Following is the straight forward death metal track, “Enter the Mancubus,” that you might be used to from their previous release, Arkanum. “Enter the Mancubus” was inspired the 1993 video game, Doom. Hannesson is strongly influenced by video games and when he first heard the riff to the track all he had in his mind was the demonic creature known as the Mancubus from the video game. The song is purely fictional and tells a story about a futuristic dystopia in which human beings have become morbid, disgusting creatures after decades of exposure to pollution, medication, and adulterated nutrition. “Atlas” begins with a gloomy, yet proggy intro before a sudden, unexpected turn to the use of clean vocals, something not seen from the band before. However, the heavy doesn’t go away with the track, it’s as brutal as the rest. Unlike the very slight slow prog vibes that “Atlas” provided, “Comatose” is a blistering number from beginning to end. The track ends with an eerie sounding piano piece. Both “Atlas” and “Comatose” are two interwoven tracks. Both of the tracks touch on certain feelings attached to events that have occurred over the last two years of Ávalos’ life. “Atlas” is an ode to guilt, while “Comatose” touches on overthinking. Mostly speaking of the consequence of processing intense feelings, suffering, and false scenarios leading to self-torture and misery.
“Profeta Paloma” is as heavy as ever with its blast beats and ferocious sounding guitars. However, unlike we’ve heard yet the song takes a major shift and a massive flamenco section proceeds. It’s suddenly haunting and a beautiful difference for the record, and the band for that matter. Reynir Hauksson performed the guitar on the section. The band only gave him the song’s chord progressions and he laid down a beautiful guitar piece for the track. The Spanish vocals on this section were performed by Fernando Pérez Cañada. The fretlass bass was composed and performed by the band’s bassist Samúel Örn Böðvarsson and finally, the remaining instruments in the flamenco section were composed and performed by Hannesson. The final track on the album, “Le Soupir du Fantôme,” is a Spanish speaking track that opens with dueling acoustic guitars and clean vocals before the track shows its true, very dark colours.
Mara is far more diverse, heavier, and just much more larger in every aspect than their previous release Arkanum. The band’s essential sound remains present, but with much, much more layers placed into it. Rather it’s the complex arrangements and compositions, the genre diversity mixed within the music, or even how Ávalos brings new life to the band’s range and songwriting as well. Ávalos’ range compared to their previous vocalist provides quite a different to the album’s wide diversity in styles and the clashing of genres that are heard on Mara.