Review Summary: What are you waiting for?
Cult Leader make a goal of misery like no other band in hardcore. Few of their contemporaries can plot such a merciless trajectory from devastation to destitution over the course of forty-eight minutes and maintain the spectral intensity of Cult Leader’s live set, or the profundity of feeling they regularly conjure despite the fact that Cult Leader really have only two settings: fast and slow. Taken as a whole, A Patient Man
starts in the former and ends in the latter with a few swerves along the way, but it never detours, it never doubles back, and it never wavers from its conviction that life begins, struggles, and ends in the dirt. It exists from the dull consistency of scorched earth, staring into a sun that never sets but always burns.
Surrounded by the grinding knives of Mike Manson’s guitarwork and Sam Richards’s bass, vocalist Anthony Lucero steers A Patient Man
with a performance as improved from Lightless Walk
as that was from Nothing For Us Here
. He has the roars and grunts and screeches down to a scathing science, but he also makes more use of his singing voice this time around, a flattish drone that wells up and spills over with unexpected pathos. The effect is sermon-like, dispirited, as if he is recounting horrors and cataloguing sorrows for a disinterested assembly; as if every word costs an inch of flesh.
“I Am Healed” opens like fire in a dark room, quick and all-consuming, while Casey Hanson scrambles to drown the music in blast-beats and fills. The irony of Lucero chanting “heal me” when it sounds like he’s burning alive finally puts the song out, and “Curse of Satisfaction” rides the smoke into apocalyptic hardcore territory, echoing Lightless Walk
’s “Suffer Louder” (“The more you suffer / the more I need it”; “I will destroy who you are / Leave you broken and wanting more”). Hanson lays down the two-step, but his role is mostly to give Manson a base to unspool row after row of barbed-wire riffs and gory feedback. Lucero screams like the ghost of what got caught and died in it, haunting the clenched-fist, gritted-teeth sludge of “Isolation in the Land of Milk and Honey,” but he knows when to stop dishing out the pain long enough to feel it. This is the lesson of Lightless Walk
’s experiments in practice. As the song crests, Lucero howls an “isolation ritual,” and you feel what he means even if you can’t quite articulate it as Manson’s riffing relents and unravels, a grimace fading into a troubled sleep.
But “To: Achlys,” slack and strung-out, is not restful. It’s an unblinking gaze into mist and darkness, a rumination on the forlornness that “Isolation” craves. There’s a vein of nostalgia pumping away beneath the malaise, a longing for abandoned things, and even a thrum of hope in its insistence that all might be made right again “if I could see the sun.” But hope gets left out to rot in A Patient Man
’s desert world, and “To: Achlys” doesn’t so much resolve as implode into “A World of Joy.” These songs form the halves of A Patient Man
’s dessicated heart. There is the stark musical juxtaposition, upholding a Cult Leader tradition that dates back to “Driftwood.” It, “A Good Life,” “How Deep It Runs,” and “Lightless Walk” are like deep crags in Cult Leader’s granite, fresh lows in a sound built for the bottom. “To: Achlys” and “A World of Joy” represent a maturation of this lineage: no longer just diversions, as they are on Lightless Walk
and Nothing For Us Here
, these broodier numbers claim center stage, sequenced back-to-back so there’s no avoiding them. “To: Achlys” wants to see the sun. “A World of Joy” asks what good that would do, and then ends in unresolved chaos.
“Craft of Mourning,” “Share My Pain,” and “Aurum Reclusa” remind me of the triptych of “Walking Wastelands,” “Gutter Gods,” and “Hate Offering” from Lightless Walk
(they even appear in roughly the same part of the tracklist). The more I listen, the more these songs play like a reset, a chance to stitch up and cauterize what’s bloodied and hurt before resuming a doomed march. Individually, they’re as incendiary as “I Am Healed,” “Curse of Satisfaction,” and “Isolation,” but they must follow “To: Achlys” and “A World of Joy”--so “Craft of Mourning” seems to run a bit long, despite a seamless hand-off of tempo and intensity from “A World of Joy,” and “Share My Pain” and “Aurum Reclusa” feel a little lean and gamey in comparison to what’s preceded them.
But these songs introduce death to the record, a curiously absent notion up until “Craft of Mourning” names it, unmasking the specter that trails A Patient Man
’s encounters with cruelty and mutilation. It infects the record. It doesn’t let go. Death informs the “language of violence” and shores up the “cost of guilt” on “Share My Pain,” turning a half-mocking, half-beseeching eye to Christ, famous sufferer, and sees what suffering does and where suffering leads. “Aurum Reclusa” (“golden spider”), is a paean to self-hatred, the evolutionary sum of the album’s loathing and dissatisfaction turning inwards toward self-destruction, its concluding lines (“I’ll leave you just as dead as me / Golden, empty, full of venom”) reading like a perversion of Converge’s “Concubine”: “There I’ll stay gold, forever gold.” It’s a devastating turn, and the album’s final moments in “A Patient Man” and “The Broken Right Hand of God” tremble with eerie conviction. There’s no plea for healing here, no sun or renewal or joy. All that left or was left behind. What remains is the numb insistence on forward motion, on carrying on in the absence of meaning. In the end, “we will fail.” In the end, everything dies. There’s a small and ugly comfort in that. It takes a patient man to get there.