Review – To/Die/For: Cult

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  • Bio: n/a
  • Label: Massacre Records
  • Release Date: June 26th, 2015
  • Genre: Gothic Metal
  • Website: Visit Website
  • Rating (out of 10):

Finland’s To/Die/For is one of the most legendary names within the gothic metal world. They originally formed under the name Mary-Ann back in 1993, and, after a self-titled full-length and follow-up EP, the group changed their name to what we have today in 1999 after signing with Spinefarm Records for that year’s All Eternity album. Since then, the band has gone through a number of line-up changes, though founding vocalist Jarno “Jape” Perätalo (Forces United) and guitarist Juha-Pekka “Juppe” Sutela (Tiaga) remain within the ranks, joined by former bassist turned guitarist Eza Viren (High Hypnotic), drummer Matti Huopainen, and bassist Samuel Schildt who was picked up in 2014. Five full-lengths and a handful of singles later, To/Die/For find themselves signed with the illustrious Massacre Records for their latest effort, Cult. But does this new one deviate from the predetermined alternative rock tinged gothic metal template the band has been working from as of late, or is it perhaps their darkest hour?

Well, if you’re going into this expecting anything remotely akin to the band’s previous effort Samsara, you are going to be kind of let down. While signature of the band is there, just about everything else about it is completely wrong. The biggest offender of this is that this album, for lack of a better term, sounds like absolute shit. The whole thing comes off fairly muffled, the guitars, with exception to the solos, are incredibly blocky and muddy (for lack of a better expression), even the effects on the vocals are atrocious, making the formerly tolerable rougher harmonizations come off absolutely amateurish. The worst, however, lies in the weak sounding drums that also have a heavy washout on certain crashes, and a barely audible bass guitar that’s only major contribution lies to the louder pulse that might have initially been planned as a twang during the silent moments of the alternative rock heavy “Unknown III” that even goes so far as to abuse auto-tuning on the female vocals, as well as one other track we’ll get to later in the review. The only aspect of this release that even remotely sounds good a majority of the time is the keyboard presence, which is fairly minimal at best unless you count the atmospheric noises in the background of certain tracks like “Screaming Birds”, though they could be anything given this god awful cringe worthy mix.

And that’s an absolute shame, as some of the tracks here actually seem like they would have been good. “In Black” ends up a mixture of the group’s signature moody material crossed with early In Flames, a comparison immediately apparent in many of the melodic bridges, as well as the track’s introduction. The additional science fiction elements from the keyboard about a minute and forty seconds in stands as a nice touch that doesn’t destroy the poetic nature of the song. That is left to the terrible sounding vocals when the enthusiasm kicks in beyond the initial few bars of the first main verse. “Screaming Birds” has a much softer start that would better be suited to a mid-career H.I.M. album. In fact, it leaves you wishing Ville Valo were handling the clean vocals at the start instead. What follows are some rougher vocal harmonizations that are kind of hard to sit through until the poor layering in the chorus. Musically, it isn’t all that bad a track, mostly due to it being a fairly laid back song until the chorus, which finds most of the negative faults masked by the aforementioned loud harmonizations.

“You” has a surprisingly strong bass presence thanks to being another fairly laid back experience, and even the vocals end up less obnoxious due to it, even during the more enthusiastic moments. “Let it Bleed” has it’s moments as well, finding some of the beauty the band is known for shining through in the guitar work. However, again, the vocals can sound awful, not to mention the washout on the cymbals is right in your face and impossible to ignore most the time, burying out the bass kicks that are under the rest of the incredibly loud kit that just continues drowning out as much as it possibly can. Even the closing track “End of Tears” works out for a while, but that’s thanks to how empty and intimate the song itself is, allowing for a little less studio interference until approaching four minutes in where more instruments and sounds from the keyboard kick in, and you’re just left scratching your head wondering why all that noise had to randomly appear and ruin an otherwise beautifully depressing performance.

To/Die/For

But, of all the songs to make you want to pull your hair out, it’s the cover of Paula Abdul‘s “Straight Up”, which is just wet your pants laughing bad. The original isn’t that hard to cover in the first place, and it seems like the band is doing a good enough job giving the original a little more substance to better fit their gothic metal world. The problem is that the song sticks out like a sore thumb, which, truthfully, is just due to the band’s choosing this one in the first place, but, hey, Beseech made their cover of Abba‘s “Gimme Gimme Gimme” work out. Aside that, the most damning aspects wind up the terrible vocal effects, god awful layering, an atrociously loud female vocal level, keyboards that sound more like something torn out of a Super Nintendo Entertain System cartridge, all of which just makes an otherwise catchy song offensive to nearly one hundred percept of the listener’s senses.

On the plus side, however, “Straight Up” is one of the few with a decent bass guitar presence. It’s also no surprise that the guitar solo is fantastic, even though it sounds a bit louder than the others that came before it. Of course, the off key female vocals can’t really be blamed on the mastering, but rather the decision to go with this female singer who isn’t named in any of the promotional material sent (and probably for good reason), so I have no idea who she is. Either way, whoever opted to allow this woman behind the microphone in general winds up a strike against everyone involved in the recording of this album as she is just beyond monotone and tone deaf to the point where you actually kind of want auto-tuning when the music goes out and all you have is her lifeless singing to fill the gap.

Cult sounds so bad that my ear drums actually feel as though they have been assaulted. By the time track four started, a nagging urge to just turn it off and walk away, never to speak of it again, a voice often ignored for the sake of a review, was proving to be more and more correct and hard to fight. The more time I spent listening to this album, the more it made me sick. Even when the song sounds good, something(s) always come in to ruin it somehow. Juho Räihä, the person behind the recording, mixing, and mastering at SoundSpiral Audio, should genuinely be ashamed with how terrible this album came out. It’s almost the literal audio interpretation of the visuals found in Minecraft, but in this case it’s just absolutely offensive, not to mention insulting to the band and the listener. Hopefully To/Die/For pulls a Nevermore and hand off the master’s to someone else and remix this effort at some point down the line, as I’d personally love to hear a better quality version of this album given that under this layer of garbage lies an effort that would otherwise be a pretty solid release. But, for now, Cult is just a trainwreck with very few redeeming songs or moments to be found, standing as the kind of album that is memorable only for negative reasons.

To/Die/For

Digital review copy of this release provided by Massacre Records.