There are few times when a band’s description of their own music is accurate. This is one of those few times. Cult of Ulysses describes their debut album, Anesidora, as an “attempt to merge Kyuss and Pink Floyd” and boy, are they on point. Of the nine desert/psychedelic rock tracks, one sounds like a true homage to Pink Floyd, many sound very Kyuss, and others have haunting vocals you could expect out of Florence Welch. Titled for an alternate name for Pandora (of the mythological box fame, not the streaming music service,) the album is dark. In trying to keep with the dark theme, the band’s Facebook and Bandcamp pages try to play up words like “demented madmen” who are “moving metal mountains to awaken the Ancient Ones.” It’s a conceptual album that on the outside is playing with mythology, but on closer inspection seems to be using some pretty standard “dark” lyrics.
Hailing from Arizona, Christopher Mariotti (who goes by Aloysius on the band’s Facebook page) brought the desert-rock sound from his home state all the way to Connecticut where he now resides. He is the mastermind behind Cult of Ulysses and he enlisted other (mostly unnamed) musicians from the Connecticut-area to contribute to the record. There’s a blend of metal and psychedelic that melds well together; “Beast of the Gévaudan” is mostly metal (though lacking crazy guitar riffs) with synth taking center stage at certain points (at some moments you wonder if it’s about to break into a Rush-like song.) “Shadow Men” lets bass take the spotlight and sounds like ’90s alternative. The metal elements can be a little awkward at times, though: the vocals on “Beast” sound like they want to be metal but aren’t quite there. Much like the shiny Facebook page trying to drum up dark imagery, the vocals sound a little like someone singing a Dio song on karaoke night. There are some amazing vocals on the album, notably “Anesidora I.” There is a long list of Connecticut-based vocalists (or “local heroes, harlots, and hooligans” if you’re reading the Facebook page) who helped out on this record. With so many voices, the vocals vary pretty widely from song to song and album loses some cohesiveness.
The trio of “Anesidora” songs are the strongest on the album. “Anesidora I” opens the album with haunting harmonized wailing sung with the power of Florence Welch. It conveys agony over the sound of waves washing in; it’s a powerful track. “Anesidora II” is heavily influenced by Pink Floyd; it’s slow, letting the drums take their time while guiding the song through a sinister lazy river. The vocals are slow, distorted, harmonized, and nearly whispered/spoken. You’d almost guess that the vocalists had British accents, that’s how heavily Pink Floyd-influenced this is. The guitar gets to wander a bit, then the haunting yell-like vocals from Part I come back in to link the songs together. It’s a great song and I would love to hear more in that style, perhaps a little less of the slow, angry synth metal from other songs. “Anesidora III” lets the guitars do more interesting things and get more metal, though at the slower speed it never hits face-melting riff levels.
As for lyrics, it’s pretty much what you would expect from the dark thing they’re trying to convey. There’s stuff like “we are forsaken,” “she belongs to the darkness,” “with haste he moved along to lay among the dead,” and there’s a bit about shadow men “reaping fear in your head.” The singer also asks the Beast of Gévaudan (a wolf-dog that killed a bunch of people in France in the 1700s) for details about killing its victims (“Tell me how you ripped apart their throats” and other hard-hitting queries.) It’s that “madman” referencing myth, history, and dark stuff. They try to cover some epic things like “Creation” but the lyrics aren’t especially epic. Still, they’ll do if your attention is on the skillfully played instruments.
There are a lot of strong points about this album: those wailed vocals on “Anesidora I” and “II” are beautiful and emotional; they’ve captured Pink Floyd’s relaxed psychedelic rock perfectly on “Anesidora II;” the musicians are all very skilled; there’s a great blend of the psychedelic synth and metal instruments. However, a powerful guitar riff is noticeably missing in some songs; the different vocalists create a lack of cohesiveness and continuity that the album needs, it would have been great to have something more linking the songs together. For me, the strangest part was that this was said to be a concept album. It is meant to be listened to all together, in order. In that case, I would expect more continuity between the songs or some sort of noticeable crescendo and diminuendo, like a wave rolling in and back out (which would tie into the wave sounds in the opening track.) The last song is fittingly called “Extinction,” though this instrumental track doesn’t fade out, it’s dark and ominous. By title alone, you would guess that “Creation” is it’s sister song, but it comes in at number six on the track listing and shares little in coming with the end track. The most noticeable linking piece of this album is the wailed vocals, which are on the first song and come up again in the third last song. After that nice tie-in, there are still another two songs left. I’m not exactly sure why the track listing was arranged the way it is. There are probably great things to come from Cult of Ulysses in the desert psychedelic rock-metal department and as far as a first album goes, this isn’t a bad one. Still, there’s just something lacking.