Cleverness — glib intelligence focused on past good results manipulating an existing system — serves as the enemy to innovation. Balancing that is the notion that what is older is usually better because, human conditions having never changed, that which serves well once will continue to do so until the situation changes (which usually means it is simply decaying and unstable). Ctulu takes us back to 1997 and combines Swedish melodic death metal, Greek black metal and the classic Iron Maiden style of melodic heavy metal for a satisfying listen that is nonetheless non-essential. In this case, “non-essential” means that you can go listen to the original albums for a more complete (less clever) view of the genre, but that Ctulu will be fun for weekend listening and the local or regional metal scene.
Now, the above seems strikingly unfair. After all, Ctulu is a good band, and the fact that they repeat trills and melodic progressions from sources as diverse as later Sacramentum, Necrophobic, Unanimated, Mayhem, Rotting Christ and Piece of Time seems irrelevant to their quality as a band; that is very much true. But what is being played here is not so much the instrument as the genre and the expectation of fans based on those older works, so what occurs is ultimately clever instead of innovative. This band has developed its own voice, but it is a voice that converses only in the context of these past acts. Without them, this band would appear strikingly different but also starkly empty. These well put together songs reflect not an interest in pushing an envelope but in gratifying a need that already exists, which is why by the sixth track the sensation of listening itself has become repetitive more than the music itself. We know what it conveys; it has found different ways of doing roughly the same thing and while most of us will grudgingly admit to adoring the melodic metal sound, it works best in service to a grand or epic vision as in the underrated later Sacramentum speed metal hybrid albums which Sarkomand frequently resembles. Here we have a local band holding the horns and beer stein high, keeping up the tradition, but this is the worst of conservative thinking in that it is creating this tradition from outward-in, not from some motivation within toward an end product, and as a result it trivializes what is here and what was there.
Expect flowing melodic passages which elevate the fill to central position so that riffs may reverse direction through the scale and achieve a sense of rapid motion. Mate that with highly proficient drumming that generally stays out of the focus but frames it expertly, mid-level death metal vocals and heavy metal choruses and you have the basic idea. While most of the riffing is death metal derived and would fit on a Sentenced or Dissection album, much of the underlying song motion more resembles black metal in its choice of atmosphere followed by saturation of that atmosphere and an angsty breakout. Like many bands influenced by this style, Ctulu know how to write a chorus that is both pleasing to the ear and yet carefully hides its addictive tendencies over just enough detachment to make it plausible instead of cloying. At this, Ctulu best the competition and it explains why they have risen above the utter horde of melodic retro death metal bands to be in the position they are in also. And yet, Sarkomand remains an album that is fun to listen to but when it departs, nothing feels missing.