Experiments. They don’t always go well. Think Shelley’s Frankenstein’s Monster. Morbid Angel’s Illud Divinum Insanus. Flubber. Art, science, and technology are rife with examples of new ideas gone awry, and the consequences these failures exact on their originators and society at large. In metal, experimentation (obviously in definition completely dependent on subgenre history, evolution, etc.) is risky business. Not all experiments work out (Looking at you Metallica and Lou Reed), and those that do often divide loyal fan-bases to a severe extent. In a genre of music as bound to its traditional sounds as metal, experimentation can be a death sentence for a band’s future, and it’s most certainly not the safest route to take for a band coming off their most critically acclaimed and popular record. Nevertheless, sludgelords The Lion’s Daughter do just that with their third full-length, Future Cult. Does their foray into experimentation work? In a word, absolutely.
For those unfamiliar, The Lion’s Daughter are a St. Louis, Missouri sludge band whose sound has always tended toward the more open-ended and progressive end of the sludge spectrum. Primitive Man or Eyehategod this is not, but that doesn’t mean the band doesn’t revel in heavy. Their previous album, Existence is Horror, was a dark and oppressive work that mixed sheer brutality with a penchant for unique sonic textures that don’t commonly find themselves on sludge records. Namely, a reliance on electronic soundscapes as an undercurrent of their typically guitar-heavy sound. Future Cult takes this proclivity to an extreme, throwing a gargantuan amount of synthesizers into the mix. If for the first 15 seconds of the album’s opening and title track you don’t recognize the band at all, you aren’t alone. So drastic is the band’s change in sound that I honestly had a hard time believing I was listening to the record that my phone said I was. But where many bands incorporate new instruments into their sound as a kitschy ploy, The Lion’s Daughter go whole hog, infusing the entire record with a backbone of synthesizers that are as essential to the record as the guitar, bass, and drums. This type of dedication to a new direction either goes incredibly well or terribly, and in this case The Lion’s Daughter fall squarely in the former category. A curveball out of nowhere, Future Cult finds the band refining their sound with adventurousness and zeal, culminating in their most fascinating record to date.
I would be remiss to harp on the band’s new direction without discussing the more “traditional” components of their sound, which permeate this album in spades. “Call of the Midnight Animal” throws a blackened, razor-sharp punch with tremolo-picked guitars and blast beats that are as ferocious as any the band have yet written. Undergirded throughout by synthesizers, this combination of instruments and sounds feels simultaneously new and familiar, presenting a jarring yet fully realized evolution of the band’s more sinister side. “Die Into Us”, one of the highlights of the record as a whole, utilizes this newfound mixture of sounds to build a devastating emotional soundscape that is utterly enthralling. Every disparate element of this track gels so perfectly together that you’d think that the band had been smashing the synths like maniacs on a multitude of previous records. But that’s ultimately what makes Future Cult work so well as a complete record. As previously mentioned, there’s nothing half-hearted about it. The synths are incorporated with skill and vigor, bleeding through every track. “Suicide Market”, “The Gown”, and “Grease Infant” all rely so heavily on electronic sounds that the songs would sound entirely different on a foundational level without them. Think Stranger Things mixed with maniacally aggressive sludge and you’ll come close to picturing this album’s overall sonic palette. But as soon as you start missing the more straightforward violence of Existence Is Horror, “Galaxy Ripper” comes chugging in to save the day with plenty of evil intent. Riffs stack on riffs in a titanic display of power that should delight any fan of this band’s back catalog. Capping off the album is the massive-sounding “In the Flesh”, which goes insanely hard until the track’s final moments, when the album’s electronic component carries us away to sonic dystopia. It’s an excellent finale for an excellent album.
In a musical landscape where sonic experiments crash and burn on a very frequent basis, it is intensely refreshing to hear a record that takes this many risks that pay off. Future Cult is without question The Lion’s Daughter’s most adventurous, expansive, and enthralling record, and a highlight of the year. As unexpected as it is brilliant, I am beyond excited to see where the band take their sound next. But for now, that doesn’t really matter. We have Future Cult to dissect and digest for years to come, and it deserves all the time we can give it. Enthusiastically recommended.