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Review: A Cunning Man’s Practical Applications of Theurgy

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A Cunning Man is the one-man metal project of Ged Cartwright who previously fronted Scumscene post hardcore favourites Teenage China. This new project is extremely high concept stuff; a progressive and symphonic metal project that simply shouldn’t be coming out of the mind of one man.

Practical Applications of Theurgy is such a dense EP that it inspired me to do some background reading on a lot of the references in the song titles. Each track contains a name that appears in The Grimoire of Pope Honorius, which is a 1760 text that was made to be read during mass. Whether or not this is actually the influence on Cartwright’s lyricism remains to be seen, but the fact that I was even intrigued enough to find some meaning in this monumentally enormous sounding EP is a true testament to how interesting A Cunning Man’s music really is.

From the first track Honorius & the Choral Forecast, the listener is assaulted with a symphonic metal attack that’s heavy on blast beats and ethereal strings. Think of a melding of Dimmu Borgir, Between the Buried and Me and Periphery and you’ve got a good idea as to how wild this all sounds. Cartwright’s virtuosic vocals are placed front and centre and rightly so; the man’s singing is nothing short of staggering with its beautiful, lilting melodies permeating every song. It’s a huge amount to take in for a first track and if there’s one criticism to be levelled at this track then it might be a case of over-egging the pudding.

The next two tracks actually reign in A Cunning Man’s tendency to throw every influence under their belt into the mix. A more considered introduction leads the listener along carefully before the instrumentation picks up and when it does it never gets overindulgent. Closer Juratus & the Sulfur Psalm also follow a similar structure and it allows the impact of A Cunning Man’s crescendos to really shine. There’s more of a post rock influence on these tracks that remind you of prog bands like TesseracT, as they show less outright visceral metal like on the first track.

Practical Applications of Theurgy is an extremely unique and almost overbearing symphonic metal release from one of the most gifted Scottish musicians I can think of. This is an extremely accomplished first offering from A Cunning Man and while it sometimes veers dangerously close to being a little too dense for its own good, the song-writing shines brighter and makes for a record that’s more than the sum of its parts. A Cunning Man have an awful lot to offer over these 3 tracks and I’m very excited to see where the project goes in the future.

8/10

A Cunning Man’s Practical Applications of Theurgy is out now and available to download direct from the band’s official Bandcamp page.


Review: The Infernal Sea’s The Great Mortality

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The Infernal Sea return with their sophomore album The Great Mortality; a record all about the black death which is obviously the most metal theme you could want. The Infernal Sea deal in the sort of melodic black metal that bands like Behemoth, Cradle of Filth and Dimmu Borgir deal in, which is wonderfully apt considering this album is being released by Cacophonous Records.

The Great Mortality is relentless. You want heavy? The Great Mortality is fucking heavy. This is eight tracks of the most punishing, flat-out black metal that you could possibly want. The drumming in particular sounds like it’s probably the most knackering thing to perform. This album is an exhausting listen that’s dark, bleak and just bloody brilliant. The opening three tracks of Way of the Wolf, The Bearer and Pestmeester form the holy trinity of metal openings; a glorious trio of songs that tell you exactly what The Infernal Sea are about, and obviously, it’s about being fucking heavy.

Alright, maybe we’re underselling how good The Infernal Sea can be because while this is a very heavy album, there’s an awful lot going on. For one, the guitar work is gorgeous on this record. Tremolo-picked riffs are in abundance and they’re loaded with melody. This is a surprisingly memorable record considering how impenetrable some black metal can be.

What also impresses is the production and mix. Black metal often favours a muddy, under-produced sound that doesn’t do the music any favours, but The Great Mortality is wonderfully produced with a thunderous, bass-heavy mix that is partnered with surprisingly bright production. If only all black metal releases dealt in such clarity.

There are also some moments of respite that do help diversify the album somewhat. The Pestmeester in particular has a striking yet delicate breakdown that introduces a violin. This gives the song a morose and sombre tone that makes the shift back into heavy territory even more impactful. Plague Herald is also stylistically different and favours a more mid-paced speed that allows you to appreciate its fantastic, stomping riff.

The Infernal Sea’s The Great Mortality is an album that you simply must own if you like metal. The Inferal Sea have absolutely mastered their craft and turned in one of the most satisfying black metal releases you could possibly want. It’s heavy, it’s memorable and it’s pretty much essential if you enjoy metal.

9/10

The Infernal Sea’s The Great Mortality is out now through Cacophonous Records.