Album Review: Cystic - Palace of Shadows
Reviewed by Sam Jones
Cystic are yet another band that has been borne out from the explosion of death metal taking extreme metal by storm lately. Formed only a years back. Cystic hail from Washington, United States, and the band have, through the years, slowly churned out a respectable quantity of material that includes a Demo, two Eps and, now, their first full length record: Palace Of Shadows. It was the album art that instantly drew me to this record, adorning their cover with a spectral and ethereal quality as opposed to something overtly ruthless for a change. Releasing this record through Chaos Records, Cystic already have eyes set upon them and so, we shall see what this album has in store for us, and everyone else come early August.
Of all the various introductions that could have been applied to this record, it fascinates me that Cystic went with a sombre, piano-led piece that opens out Palace Of Shadows not with some triumphant declaration but rather some inclination towards hidden tragedy. In many ways it absolutely exemplifies the atmosphere Cystic champion within and without, for the sodden and murky soundscape reflects the cover art wondrously. That sense of a misty atmosphere is only furthered as the band unleash their first track, “Pestilential Throne”, whereby the band ooze this macabre and misshapen aesthetic. There’s no sense that the band are looking to embody any notions of victory or devastating bludgeoning; the songwriting is dreary in mood yet the tone isn’t so crushing that we don’t have the freedom to experience it without obstacle. Had the riffs and production been more crushing, the atmosphere would be lost on us, and lost within the mix.
Additionally, you can feel the tone of this record most of all through the drums and how they’ve been applied to the mixing. There are many phases throughout the record where the band’s pacing is fast, and the intensity certainly rises, yet regardless whether the pacing is faster or slower the drumming retains a light and deft touch to its performance. The drums are far from the totalitarian punishers other works of death metal have rent them to be; here they’re raw and appear to have been given little or minimal application of polish ti at least sift them through the songwriting to where the band need them to be. Other than that, the drums have been left in the record as they likely sounded during the recording process. It gives the record a peculiarly blackened aesthetic that other death metal acts this year haven’t come close to resembling. Tom-Tom strikes come off as crisp yet light as a feather which only deepens the unrefined, raw nature of this record.
While Palace Of Shadows is a predominantly light production that doesn’t quell to greatly on our senses, the band would do us and themselves a disservice had their bass not been as strong and audibly present as it is herein. In many ways, this record is a blessing for those who are t after something too brutal on the senses yet a band still needs to provide something grounding enough that our engagement is thoroughly satisfied, and where we feel like our attention isn’t going to wane at all. Utilising a bass that is as thick and as much an individual force as any guitar riff or vocal utterance becomes central to the record’s chemistry for the bass is nicely present, especially when many other factors slip away and the bass may be all that is performing at a certain moment. Intrinsically, the bass is utterly incremental to maintaining the band’s place in reality otherwise it’d run the risk of losing any sense of direction.
I appreciate how little fanfare Cystic seemingly lend towards their own songwriting; when you hear the band play, and their songwriting develop, you can’t help but feel like they aren’t putting too much importance on any one specific track. There is very little grandeur poured into their songwriting, nor are the band trying to emphasis any particular importance throughout any segments at all. Cystic are ultimately leaving it up to us as the audience to decipher and choose what we believe is worthwhile listening, and what is worth returning for. The band are merely the mouthpiece for this record and choose to throw out any such pretence towards putting their own sound on any form of pedestal; that’s not to say this record isn’t engaging because it certainly is, but I believe it’s because the don’t thrust anything into our faces. If we firmly enjoy something it’s down to our own experience with this record and not simply due to the band themselves influencing our decision over it.
In conclusion, Palace Of Shadows is a really interesting album that leaves the door wide open for how audiences may respond to it. It’s always a band’s prerogative for a listener to enjoy a record, then come back for second helpings but Cystic prefer not to lean too heavily on that angle. They’d rather let the music do all the talking, emphasising the bare minimum the band apply to their own fanfare wherein the songwriting is simultaneously stripped back yet has everything on display. It certainly makes for a unique album that provides exactly the kind of macabre death/doom you’d want from such an album as titled as Palace Of Shadows, yet the overall mood this record exudes is so different than your typical extreme metal work. On the whole, it only makes me more interested to see what Cystic do next. A particularly cryptic death metal record, it’s ambiguity only renders it more elusive to understand, and therefore enticing to experience.