Traditional heavy metal has come and gone in and out of fashion several times over, but it’s never really gone away. Coursing through the veins of every hesher is the blood of Iron Maiden and Mercyful Fate, Celtic Frost and Judas Priest. These are foundational bands for a reason, helping to bridge the gap between rock ‘n’ roll and something more sinister, more theatrical, more unapologetically dark. As that iconic sound gets passed down through generations, the formula changes depending on which mad alchemist is wielding it. Where In Solitude might cloak it in a gothic sheen, Ghost would treat it to a more grandiose prog-rock spectacle, and Midnight takes it to its filthiest, most lowbrow ends.
Atlanta’s Cloak are traditionalists in the loosest sense of the word. Their self-titled debut EP offered a brief glimpse at the shadowy realm in which these Southerners lurk, revealing a strong pedigree in the classics while presenting their brand of desecrated classicism in layers of black metal grimness and death metal brutality. Their debut album, To Venomous Depths, puts a greater spotlight on both extremes, showcasing not only the sophistication and intricacy behind their songwriting but the intensity and outright nastiness of it as well. It rides a well-established yet often blurred line between vintage metal accessibility and something much more guttural and ferocious.
Cloak set their sights high on To Venomous Depths, delivering an album considerably longer than two sides of vinyl can accommodate and more cohesive than even those of some of the bands they come closest to in terms of aesthetic (In Solitude, Tribulation). From the gothic piano that opens up leadoff track “To Venomous Depths/Where No Light Shines” alone, there’s nothing but total commitment to an ornate gothic heavy metal aesthetic, one that’s high on drama but backed up by some spectacular melodies. By the time the track fully takes off, it’s a mesmerizing display of both instrumental dynamics and eerie restraint, flexing their penchant for atmosphere over relentless pummeling. It’s intricate, even baroque, but it’s tasteful and thoughtful in a way that metal bands rarely get credit for (and to be fair, some avoid altogether).
Where Cloak sometimes nod to the grandeur of Paradise Lost or latter-day Celtic Frost, they maintain a level of immediacy to the point which any number of the songs here could be a single—insofar as such formats still exist in metal. Vocalist Scott Taysom’s growl is the most abrasive thing about “Within the Timeless Black,” as well as it is with most of the songs, but the track’s punchy power chords and doom-metal guitar harmonies lend it a melodic brilliance. There’s a mournful lurch to the beginning of “Beyond the Veil,” yet once it kicks into high gear, the band delivers heavy metal of the highest order, while “Death Posture” is as close to a power ballad as they come, slowing down and glooming out to the max.
Outside of the introductory piano in the first track, there aren’t too many surprises within Cloak’s arrangements, though it’s a bit early in their career to be embracing string quartets. Yet their use of quiet/loud dynamics is highly effective, building up mood before delving straight into hellacious riffstorms. “Forever Burned” is one such example, a chugging, gothic 6/8 shuffle that wavers between eerie and aggressive, and the band nails them both. To Venomous Depths feels remarkably cohesive and accomplished for a band only now releasing their debut. That might very well signify a hell of a journey ahead for the Atlantan foursome, but to speculate feels wholly unnecessary when they’ve delivered a metal album so powerful right out of the gates.