Man, I am a total sucker for bands that really mix it up. Dog Fashion Disco, Estradasphere, Waltari and, of course, Faith No More, are but a few of my favorite heavier eclectic bands, but in all my too many years of appreciating fearless variation and integration in music, I have never heard anything quite like Blood Cult. This is a severely underground band that succeeds in throwing every odd thing they can muster into the black metal pot and stirring it up with the culinary acumen of Emeril Lagasse. BAM! Black metal. BAM! Punk. BAM! Krautrock. BAM! Country. BAM! Yes, country. Because they’re (allegedly) from rural Kenney, Illinois, population: 374 (or so), and they fancy cowboy hats.
All else I know about Blood Cult’s backstory is that they refer to themselves as “Redneck Black Metal,” which is both unfortunate and ultimately misleading. Now, I’ve no doubt that they are indeed very proud rednecks, but on We Are the Cult of the Plains, the band don’t get anywhere near the shitfest their self-imposed genre tag implies. Instead, they seem to play the songs that boil and bubble up from their collective consciousness and these happen to run freely about the range from methed out ambient (“My Forest Home”) and folk-oriented (“Seeds”) black metal to punky rockabilly (“Never Said Goodbye” and “Serpent”). And “Devil’s Sabbath” surprises with a super fun and funky seventies jam rock vibe. But as colorful as all this is, it is always muted by an ashen coat of black metal aesthetic with shrill guitar and honestly creepy, throaty rasps.
The real showcase, though, on We Are the Cult of the Plains is “Illinoisan Altar,” which finally lets fly with the promised heavy metal hoedown. This one bounces around a fast, simple pick and strum with brushed snare, ghostly steel guitar effects, and raspy vocals, managing to sound every bit as sinister as it does authentically country. After about five minutes, it breaks into a fantastically fuzzed out, doomy jam fest, featuring three minutes of inspired soloing from Reverend J.R. Preston. The man clearly loves his solos and melodic leads, devoting (and I’m guessing here) at least 40% of the record’s time to dancing nimbly and passionately up and down the fretboard. The good Reverend shines brightly on “Ludi Ceriales,” where for nearly five minutes he drapes sublime trancelike leads with a Middle Eastern aura over a sort of post-doom, tribal beat mix from the rhythm section. It’s an easy song in which to get utterly, blissfully lost.
Regarding the low production score, it reflects an approach that seems to be all about Blood Cult’s desire to maintain a sense of underground. The mix is solid, each of the instruments enjoying ample space, but the master volume is absurdly low and the whole thing sounds as if it was filtered through a full gross of burlap cloth. Thing is, I’m not sure I would change anything about it (except maybe the overall volume), as it plays very well to the band’s intended air of mystery, sounding like it was recorded ‘round a bonfire in the middle of a crop-circled cornfield on All Hallow’s Eve.
I’m not naïve enough to guess that a whole lot of people are really going to dig this album. I think some people will even hate it for its quirkiness and pretentious approach to production. And I concede that its obscure-by-design nature will effectively serve the band’s plans to continue working well below even the upper-underground. But, man, the crazy, nerdy metal fan in me is bustin’ at the seams with the feeling that every other heavy music enthusiast on the planet needs to at least give this a listen. In any event, I see myself spending an inordinate amount of time with Blood Cult this year and probably longer.