We dig through a lot of promos on the METALHEADS Podcast, and while thankfully gems do appear there, it’s awfully nice to stumble across a good record out in the wide world that you know nothing about, and that nobody in particular was trying to get you to listen to. Such was the case for Cretus’ debut E.P. for me. The vaguely Sabbath Bloody Sabbath-esque cover caught my eye on a recent iTunes perusal, and with nothing else to go on I gave it a listen.
Cretus is a modernized N.W.O.B.H.M. style band, probably best filed under Cult Metal...if record stores had such a section. Not cult as in underground, rather something along the lines of a devotional, say…Ghost, though to my way of thinking, much creepier. Dealing with the music first, Dux Mea Lux is laden with impressive hooks and tingling riffs, and chugs along at mid-pace. There’s an aspect of "retro" here, but I’m always kind of loathe to use that expression. Only that the structures and arrangements of the songs have more in common with the 80s than the now, and the guitar tones predate the super high gain that most seem to think essential in metal today.
It may be that my web searching skills are lacking, but I was unable to find names to attach to the musicians in Cretus, so forgive me when I can only say "the singer" delivers the vocal lines in a mid-range baritone, sometimes pushing up to slightly higher realms. He delivers his gospel with a purpose, and reminds me vaguely of Glenn Danzig in the quiet intro to the E.P.’s closing track, "Little Children." It’s no mistake of course that I couldn’t find information on the musicians, as that seems to be part of the presentation. Much like Ghost, Cretus presents itself as a kind of nameless whole with an agenda to push. More on that in a bit.
There’s some tight writing going on in Cretus, and Dux Mea Lux does some pretty impressive aural cartwheels as it moves along, without ever getting showy or prog-ish. Rather, its gut level delivery comes from a group of committed folks banging away with conviction. It has the balance of some of the better N.W.O.B.H.M. albums, never relying too much on any one aspect of its overall presentation. It skips along in places, gets down right doomy in others, and creepy and atmospheric in still others. The production is invisible in the best sense of the word, in that while there are a few echo effects and the like here and there, one gets the impression that the band is being heard as they are.
And then there is the, um, shtick. In contrast to the Hammer Horror vibe of Ghost, Cretus dig in places a little darker and dirtier for their "message," and their handling of the material is pretty effective. They remind me quite a bit of Sabbath Assembly (at least in philosophy), who actually recorded a full album (Ye Are Gods) of songs written by a very real cult from the 60s that held both Jesus and Satan in equal esteem. It’s all about enlightenment, but enlightenment brought about by LSD, and with an edge of danger that threatens to produce results closer to Manson (Charles, not Marilyn) than Ram Dass.
The albums lyrics piece together the band’s philosophy, but without ever giving too much away, which is one of the more potent strategies of actual cults. There are a lot of clever credos and pronouncements, with one of the best being the theme of the third track, "What I Will." It’s a bit of a twist on the old Crowley gem "Do What Thou Wilt," but with a more sinister edge. The singer isn’t announcing he’s going to do whatever he sees fit. No, when he menaces "Do What I Will," he means "do the things I tell you to do." Of course, it’s stated more clearly in the lyric, "ditch your job, sell your house, leave your life, and join your new family." Nothing too hidden there. The album's closing track reaches its climax with the insistent phrases "I am the messenger. I am the message," and whether or not that message is even made clear in the album’s relatively short 28 minutes-or-so running time, it’s still pretty convincing.
Cretus are running their con to the maximum. Check out their website and you’ll discover the band’s lineup consists of The Pig, The Unicorn, and two Sheep. You’ll also find links to books ranging from The Art of Logical Thinking to The Corpus Hermeticum. Make sure you click on "Request Membership" under "Outreach," for an extra dose of creep in the questionnaire you’ll be confronted with. Be prepared to give answer questions about personal income, what you believe you know about Cretus, and most disturbingly, what you hope to "gain from this."
It’s all in good fun of course (I think), but packaged with a heavy, damned catchy album, Cretus’ overall presentation is one of the cooler, creepier times you can have this year. And yes, I filled out the questionnaire. So far no reply, and so far no mysterious white vans hanging out in my neighborhood.