REVIEW: CULT OF FIRE – “MOKSHA / NIRVANA”

By Nathanas Trismegistus

Cult of Fire – Moksha / Nirvana; a double dose of epic, esoteric, Czechian black metal, both released, digitally, on February 20, 2020 by Beyond Eyes. The physical copies – which, as I understand it, will be collated into a single, split double LP and CD release – won’t be disseminated until May 5 (you read that correctly), after Cult of Fire’s European tour. However, physical copies are being sold on the tour, which began in Prague on February 21. Unfortunate for those of us residing in Burgerland™ and elsewhere in the world; but, I can assure you, these records will be well worth the wait. After all, you can stream them for free on Bandcamp and on Youtube (links below).

The mad lads did it. After seven years since the release of मृत्यु का तापसी अनुध्यान (“Ascetic Meditation of Death”), Cult of Fire finally unleash a pair of full-length, ritualistic symphonies of cosmic magnitude. Not to say that the band has been indolent all those years. In the interim, they released three excellent EPs; a live album which compiled some of their best tunes; and, last year, even released an impressive single (which, unfortunately, was also sold exclusively on tour). I am pleased to say, however, that the single in question is featured (track 3 to be exact) on the Moksha portion of this release.

As I’ve stated in the past, I am a huge fan of Cult of Fire. Every single piece of media they have produced, I have thoroughly enjoyed and eagerly digested. From their debut EP, 20:11, to their most recent, untitled EP. I do consider their first album, Triumvirat, their best only because it is more genuinely “Czechian” (this was before they devoted their lyrical content and visual stylings fully to the more mystical, eastern, “Vedic” themes); possesses more variety track-for-track; and relies less on “weird”, unorthodox (to black metal) instrumentation to bolster the eccentric, stylistic shift. (I do not begrudge the stylistic shift as it is, more or less, superficial and the quality of the music, itself, has not changed much.) Perhaps I cannot, therefore, assess these new releases with any measure of objectivity. But I’m not going let that stop me.

This band does get grouped together with the likes of Batushka and Mgła, in that their musical style is very melodic and their sound production quality is all very good and “accessible”. They also all released their “definitive” or “seminal” albums around the same time (2013-2015). Despite the fact that none of these bands are really “mainstream”, neither of them are really “underground” either. Both Batushka and Mgła have broken through the substratum of metal consciousness with the former (the state of the band is, of course, disputed) signing on to Metal Blade Records and the latter, of course, touring with and given exposure by one of the most well-known extreme metal bands, Behemoth. Cult of Fire, I think, is unique amongst them as they are largely more independent – publishing their records via their own label – and their musical style is the most “elusive” (that is to say, harder to classify) being more akin to their fellow Czechian nationals, the legendary Master’s Hammer.

I will start with Moksha, which has the distinction of having song titles written in the Czech language. Replete with the awe-inspiring, trance-inducing melodies and grand, coursing progressions for which Cult of Fire are known. It is all rendered even more impressive when you consider that all the music on this album was composed by one person. This portion of the dual release seems to be a conceptual album on the teachings of one particular guru. This portion is also home to the two best songs of the whole: “Město mrtvých” and the aforementioned “(ne)Čistý”, or “(un)Clean”. The former, specifically, may just be the greatest piece the band has ever composed. It is, to put it simply, a spiritual experience.

Everything I said about Moksha, to a certain extent, can also be said about Nirvana. The song titles, however, are not in Czech, but are merely labeled “Buddha 1”, “Buddha 2”, “Buddha 3”, etcetera. I know about as much about Buddhism as I do Aghori or Baba Kinaram; which is, to say, absolutely nothing. It has something to do with the dichotomous (or dualistic) relationship of the five wisdoms (which is far too complicated to explain here) to the five toxic emotions (or “deadly sins”, if you prefer) which, I suppose, are meant to be “equalized” in order to achieve Nirvana. Such esotericisms are well beyond my knowledge or comprehension, though, so I won’t pretend like I know what’s being said in relation to this album’s message. With regards to music, however, the transition between Moksha and Nirvana is smooth and seamless, abetted, no doubt, by a tight audio mastering process. Though it does stumble in the middle, in my opinion, it ends on a redeeming, propitious high note with the enigmatic and ethereal “Buddha 5”, which is certainly my favorite track on this half of the release.

Overall, there are very few musical or instrumentational differences between Moksha and (especially the first two tracks of) Nirvana. I’m sure there are lyrical and thematic differences, but, as of right now, I couldn’t tell you what they are as the lyrics are unintelligible to me. With major chords aplenty, Nirvana does feel, marginally, more positive and uplifting and, nominally, less dark and mysterious. Regardless, I definitely prefer the Moksha side—and not just because of the more colorful artwork. It has more of that classic Cult of Fire signature sound that I adore and, I’d say (though I’ll probably regret it), it reaches a peak which the band, hitherto, had never before reached. I will say, though, despite being near perfect, in totality, the pair falls just short as both albums have tracks which, I think, are unquestionably dead on arrival. On Moksha, the stinker would definitely be track four, “Har Har Mahadev”. On Nirvana, it would be “Buddha 3” which starts with this utterly inane and repetitive lick played over a tawdry, grand piano number (it does improve as the song progresses, however). “Buddha 4” is also somewhat tiresome.

Together, the two albums clock in at just under one hour and eight minutes, which is just shy of the previously reviewed Mavorim release, Axis Mundi. And, though they, thematically, operate on a much grander scale, Moksha / Nirvana are, similarly, contenders for the best black metal album of 2020. The ultimate decision will be excruciatingly difficult. Nevertheless, these are masterful works by masters of the black craft. I cannot wait to get my hands on physical copies. When you, alas, acquire your copies, give them a spin and embrace the baleful, shrinking shadow of the Kali Yuga. Absolutely and unambiguously recommended for the discerning metalhead at any level of their initiation. Indisputably essential – and, dare I say, mandatory – listening for the underground metal aficionado.

Listen to Moksha here: https://cultoffire.bandcamp.com/album/moksha

Listen to Nirvana here: https://cultoffire.bandcamp.com/album/nirvana

Buy here (when available): https://beyondeyesshop.com/

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