Cloak Give Black Metal A Glam Sparkle On “To Venomous Depths”
There has been an undeniable surge in metal’s trendiness over recent years, much to the chagrin of genre faithfuls. Black metal in particular has been an especially popular hue on the palette of such trend-hoppers. As mainstream fashion brands increasingly incorporate black metal’s visual cues into their designs, artists in seemingly unrelated genres grasp hungrily across the expanse at authenticity via covers and stylistic appropriations. Atlanta quartet Cloak are not one of these guilty perpetrators, as they confidently declare on their debut full-length release To Venomous Depths. It is a statement which artfully fuses elements of black metal, death metal, glam, and more into a uniquely compelling beast that is all their own.
Though Cloak have engineered an aesthetic from so many diverse building blocks, nothing about it feels affected, contrived, or trite. On the contrary, the band exhibit a level of understanding and care for their references so as to forge them together in creation of a sonic entity which embraces and elevates the manifold souls of its parts. Cloak’s clever songwriting is made all the more notable when contrasted with their relative inexperience, having only released a single EP last year. To Venomous Depths could easily have been issued by a veteran band as an affirmation of a musical identity honed over years of progression, yet Cloak are able to showcase this level of vision and focus from the very beginning of their journey.
Cloak have made their sepulchral approach clear via multiple avenues. Somber press photos feature a black-clad, stone-faced group seemingly incapable of mirth, as they pose stoically in the woods or with lit torches held aloft. Band statements discuss the album’s themes of “darkness over light” as well as the group’s “dark energies." Despite this, their record is brimming with a contagious energy that refuses to be tempered or contained. Cloak have promised an expedition “to venomous depths,” but the descent proves to be far more ebullient than what is indicated by the album’s title and cover art.
The album commences with a gentle caress of piano and strings, a fragile moment which soon falls victim to the incoming storm of haunting chords. An upbeat tom groove from drummer Sean Bruneau drives the music forward as the guitars darken the skies from above. It is an unexpected complement to the doom-laden chord progression, but an important lesson from the band in navigating the way forward. Just a few seconds in, and Cloak are already signaling that there will be healthy portions of bouncy cock rock served up underneath a thick blackened gravy of death, the various dishes intermingling on the plate so as to set off the spiraling anxieties of those obsessives out there whose foods must never touch. “Get off this train while you still can,” warn the band, “because this is who we are, and this ride does not stop.”
Much of the album’s riffage is packed with syncopation, at times venturing dangerously close to something that wouldn’t sound out of place if included on Dr. Feelgood. Cloak’s catchy sound doesn’t discriminate as far as the good times are concerned, with as many nods to metal’s colorful faces as there are to its dourer contributors. Mid-album stompfest “In the Darkness, the Path” relies heavily on the expected evil-infused melodies, tremolo guitars and rolling kicks, but there, in the distance yet clearly audible, lies… a tambourine. Unlike many other recent “just add black metal” bands, Cloak succeed at organically weaving the genre’s defining elements together with their other influences to create a truly enjoyable result.
The album’s many guitar solos reinforce the band’s rock roots which consistently shine through their blackened exterior. There is much common ground between Cloak and blackened party troupe Kvelertak, though the former dance masterfully on the line between black 'n' roll and party-punk without ever crossing over. Cloak save their most blackened moments for mammoth album closer “Deep Red,” as they wrap things up with the only blast beat to be found on the entire endeavor.
Across the album, Cloak reveal a clear preference for builds over breakdowns, exemplified by the single “Beyond the Veil,” to channel and direct energy with disco-styled backbeats, quick high-hat stickwork, and propulsive bass. Momentum is created and nurtured as songs are allowed to swell and peak before dying down, only to build back up to even greater heights. Despite the majority of tracks tipping the scales with runtimes of over six minutes, they rarely feel as long as they actually are, thanks to expert-tier pacing, dynamics and structural choices. “Forever Burned” is a particularly infectious joyride in 12/8 that has all Cloak’s strengths on display.
Consistently impressive across the album are Bruneau and bassist Matt Scott, the kinetic rhythm section fueling the Cloak locomotive. Bruneau’s conservative beats are balanced by fluid fills that highlight his appreciable proficiency and finesse, while Scott never shies away from letting his funk flag fly. The two hold a clear understanding of their role in service to the music and possess the level of musicianship required to fortify and embellish their performances tastefully within these constraints.
Despite the breadth of genre input, the album is a remarkably coherent statement from a band brimming with potential and promise. Cloak have crafted a signature aesthetic from the outset, which further equips them for continued success. Their polished sound is consistently accessible while drawing on influences that will garner support from across metal’s fractured landscape, as To Venomous Depths establishes the group as one of those rare bands that can bring metalheads together in gleeful, head-banging consensus.
-- Ivan Belcic
To Venomous Depths releases this Friday, November 10th via Season of Mist. Stream the title track as well as two others now on Cloak’s Bandcamp.