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Cult Of The Fox - By the Styx

Cult Of The Fox
By The Styx
by Chris Hawkins at 28 April 2018, 12:03 AM

While I was gathering my thoughts in order to start my review of CULT OF THE FOX's third album, "By the Styx," I was reminded of an interesting story that may enlighten the reader to one of the main points I intend to make.  When I was a teenager, I hung out with a small group of close friends, bonded by and strengthened from a shared interest in Metal.   The time I'm referring to is my high school years in the early 1990s, yet we still listened to stuff from BLACK SABBATH, VENOM, and BATHORY with everything between and up to the bands that were current at the time varying from TYPE O NEGATIVE/CARNIVORE, OBITUARY, and ACID BATH to many, many others.

One band that we enjoyed (and still do under the right circumstances) a great deal, though with tongues planted firmly in cheeks, was MANOWAR.  We could quote lyrics from songs such as "Metal Warriors," "Hail and Kill," and my personal favorite, "Black Wind, Fire, and Steel" from which I made a drinking game entitled "Black Wind, Fire, and Steel" with the game play centering around drinking every time Eric Adams sings the lyrics, "Black Wind, Fire, and Steel."  If you could make it through to the end of the song, you were sufficiently Metal.  I bring up our MANOWAR-filled teenage years as a preface to ten or so years later when we were all hanging out with some other Metal friends that we'd not known back in the day, and we were watching the MANOWAR "Fire and Blood" live DVD.  We were watching them perform "Blood of the Kings," and I busted out laughing at how pretentiously Joey Demaio was strutting across the stage.

A certain side of the room was dead silent, and I could feel daggers piercing from the looks across the room to which I turned.  A certain female friend of ours paused the video and said, "That's messed up, Hawkins.  That's MANOWAR.  They're the kings of Metal!  How can you laugh?"  It was no use trying to explain the farcical elements of MANOWAR when you're partying with someone who drank the kool-aid that even the band don't partake of.  How does this relate to my review?  It's simple because as Metal fans we ought to be able to laugh at ourselves and others, though the camp is often split between those who can and those who either can't or won't.  When listening to this band, CULT OF THE FOX, you have to wonder whether their tongues are planted in their cheeks and they are just having fun or whether they are stone cold serious like some "fans-o-war."  The album does feature more than a quaint whiff of cheddar.  The point is that, in writing the review, I must give you an accurate assessment of the album I've gotten to hear ahead of time in order for you to make an informed choice on what album(s) to drop your cash on.

Formed in 2007, CULT OF THE FOX are from Malmö, Sweden, and they have created an album that sounds very much "in-the-box."  They do sound like they have partaken of their own kool-aid.  The first track of the album is called "Siege from the Sky," and makes an immediate impression with an up-tempo rhythm supported by a bass player that sounds a lot like Steve Harris.  Sadly, that doesn't make up for the travesty that is the vocal performance.  It's shaky at best, with the vocals sounding like they are beginning to falter on some notes.  More of a MAIDEN-vibe comes courtesy of the bass playing on the second song, the title track.  Unfortunately, the vocals sound worse as the singer sounds barely able to keep up in parts giving more than a hint of being out of breath.  During the verse sections, he sounds as if he is trying to incorporate a creepy vibe a la KING DIAMOND with layered vocals tracks in the background which do not help at all.  To say this is a slight issue is like saying the president has a slight tendency to over-Tweet.

To give the guy a break and give credit where it's due, the different approach taken in the production of the sixth track, "Nightmaster" is a much-needed improvement as it gives the vocals a healthy shot of reverb causing them to sound bigger and stronger.  The struggle is thankfully lessened, yet one has to wonder why it took five tracks to arrive at this game-changing decision.  The best song on the album is the next track, "Bones Alley," with its decidedly more memorable guitar riff which had me going through my collection playing everything from DOKKEN to MALMSTEEN (for chord progression, not speed) to BLACK SABBATH and DIO to try and figure out what other riff it reminded me of to no avail.  The ninth track, "Return to the Burning," struck me as odd with its upbeat guitar riff sounding like something from Vito Bratta or Warren DeMartini more than Adrian Smith or Wolf Hoffmann held up by a slippery, almost-funky drum beat.  "The Damnation of Albert Caneham" is the tenth track and the longest on the album.  The main riff is one of those ultra-simple guitar riffs that stick around in your head long after listening to with its simple, down-picking root/fifth pattern that gets turned around for the second part a little like classic JUDAS PRIEST or W.A.S.P.

Instrumentally, the highlight of this album is undoubtedly the classic bass playing with excellent fills and runs as well as a solid multi-dimensional sound pushed harder by its percussive element, a key role for bass that often goes unused.  Along with the bass, the drums help form the best aspect of the band, the rhythm section.  The guitars are sufficient for what are demanded of them with some leads that are nothing stellar but also not out of key.  Clearly, the singer is the weakest link, often sounding like an out-of-breath Paul Di'Anno trying to sing Bruce Dickinson's vocal lines on karaoke night.

At the end of the day, one has to wonder, where does a band like this fit?  To their favor, the band has an enlarged place in the musical landscape of today, no doubt thankful to the rising number of large festival gigs booking classic Metal bands and those of that style as well as the increase of bands that fit in the genre of NWOTHM.  CULT OF THE FOX seem to be a band trying to fit into the place of a band like ACCEPT or even GRAVE DIGGER.  The band could also fit into the niche of a band like LIZZY BORDEN or W.A.S.P., more Pop-oriented bands than the previous examples yet with a harder edge than Glam.  Regrettably, though, the hard truth is that a solid, long-lasting place in the annals of Heavy Metal will elude the band until it decides to forge on with a stronger singer.  Another lead guitar position could help as well to stir things up as there are hints of great writing on the record though the band has yet to put together all the pieces.

Songwriting: 5
Originality: 5
Memorability: 5
Production: 6

2 Star Rating

1. Siege From the Sky
2. By the Styx
3. Killing the Black Dog
4. Riddle of Steel
5. Blackfriar's Bridge
6. Nightmaster
7. Bones Alley
8. A Warrior Reborn
9. Return to the Burning
10.  The Damnation of Albert Caneham
11.  Shuttin' 'Em Down
Erika Wallberg - Guitar
Magnus Hultman - Vocals
Frerik Theander - Guitar
Marcus Rosenkvist – Drums, Backing Vocals
Peter Svensson – Bass, Backing Vocals
Record Label: Iron Shield Records


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Edited 03 October 2022

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