Cultura Tres – ‘El Mal Del Bien’ Vinyl Review

Cultura Tres first came to my attention via a mail out advertising a pay-what-you-like style system for their latest album ‘El mal del bien’. However, unlike, say, Radiohead, who utilised a similar system, Cultura Tres applied it not only to downloads but also to the sale of the limited, beautifully presented vinyl edition of the album. With that in mind I decided not to review the album until my vinyl edition appeared so that I could adequately convey the majesty of their oppressive, doom-laden material that is contained within. It was worth the wait.

Ostensibly a sludge/doom band from Venzuala, it may surprise some people to learn that the first track of this remarkable album (‘propiedad de Dios’) has overtones of Alice in Chains’ downtrodden doom, thanks to the brilliantly constructed vocal harmonies of Alejandro Londono and Juan Manuel De Ferrari. Even when more traditional growls do appear (and there are plenty) the song has the sweeping, epic feel of vintage Alice filtered through the excesses of Black Sabbath, with the result that within the first few minutes you are treated to an insidious, snaking riff, fluid and wonderfully clear solos and a multitude of different moods and feelings. It is enough to have the hair standing up on the back of your neck, and it is an indisputable pleasure to hear a band taking such time and trouble to craft such remarkable music. Brilliantly innovative, there is simply no weak link in the chain here – the production (handled by Alejandro) is second to none, and on this well pressed 180 grm vinyl edition it is reproduced in perfect, crackle-free clarity. As elements of Neurosis’ sludge metal ambience flows around you, the band suddenly left-foot you with the searing riff of ‘Purified’ which appears out of nowhere and is the aural equivalent of being viciously body slammed whilst walking down the street. Yet even here Cultura Tres understand the value of restraint and the riffs are reigned in with Alejandro’s voice a threatening sneer rather than an out-and-out bellow, allowing the listener some breathing room before the heavy riffs snake back in, tearing apart mood and atmosphere and allowing Alejandro the chance to exercise his not inconsiderable lungpower. It’s near overpowering and the depth and complexity which the band imbue in their music makes for addictive listening – certainly I had to spin this record a fair few times before I felt confident enough to attempt an adequate review. The rhythm section – Alonso Milano (bass) and David Abbink (drums) both prove to be masters of their instruments, providing a rock solid canvas upon which Alejandro and Juan paint their masterpieces. Guitars intertwine and overlap and riffs collide in stunning displays of virtuosity and heaviness – truly this album is a doom metal fan’s wet dream.

An instrumental track, ‘Los muertos de mi color’ actually recalls Pink Floyd at their darkest – guitars gently wailing out of the gloom in a manner that recalls ‘set the controls…’ before increasingly agitated percussive elements appear slowly pushing the listener ever closer to the brink of madness. Then we’re into ‘El sur de la fe’, the final track on a side where every single track is nothing short of essential and it proves to be a mind-numbingly heavy track, emerging from the miasma with a riff that could demolish buildings. Yet nothing here is straightforward and while the riffs pile up, the lead guitar wails and screams over the top like a soul in torment. It’s thrilling, invigorating, hallucinatory, sludge metal that will have the blood of anyone who worships at the altar of ‘through silver in blood’ well and truly surging through their veins. It is the perfect closing track to the side and these four tracks alone would have made the album an essential purchase even if you were to ignore the second side of the disc.

Opening up the second half of this dense record is ‘no es mi verdad’ has a riff that is simply irresistible. A mid-tempo, cast iron belter it provides the perfect backdrop for the strangely psychedelic vocals that drift across the surface like so much smoke. Brave enough to be different, the track has a lengthy instrumental section filled with oppressive and jazzy overtones that slowly builds back up to the initial surging riff but only after demonstrating the band’s supreme mastery, not only of their instruments but also of the art of developing complex, yet fascinating and engrossing songs. It is a much underrated talent and Cultura Tres are masters of epic, meaningful and unique compositions. With the song reaching its apocalyptic conclusion, it is hard to think where the band will go next, but then the pummelling riff of ‘the grace’ is unleashed and it becomes clear that Cultura Tres will not slack off at this stage in the game. A searing, none-more-brutal assault on the senses it does the unexpected by unleashing a vicious, High On Fire style attack that is as unexpected as it is thrilling. Almost a two part song, the tempo soon slows and you’re left with a remarkable, lengthy coda replete with gloriously fluid solos and churning bass. The title track, an instrumental, is up next, and it conjures up images of the instrumental brilliance of Karma To Burn via the oblique sonic territory of Neurosis to grand effect, making the final, sudden, schizophrenic switch to full-on metal all the more disorientating. The final track, ‘voices’ sees the band once again indulging a more progressive sound before unveiling a final riff of such potency that it simply destroys everything that has come before.

‘El mal del bien’ is a short album, but in its brevity lies the key – there is not a single weak moment, not a dropped note or over-milked passage. The band simply set up, unleash hell, and then vanish again before you’re even really aware of the damage that has been done. Each and every song here is unique, beautiful, ugly and disturbing – as if the band poured their very hearts and souls into the recording process and wrung themselves out whilst doing so. Emotion and feeling drips from every note and by practising themselves into the ground Cultura Tres have reached an enviable level of instrumental perfection to match their undoubted ambition. This is a solid gold sludge doom masterpiece that deserves to be heard – and if you are in any doubt as to the veracity of my review the video for ‘Purified’ can be watched at the foot of this post. Available as vinyl and as a high-quality download (including four bonus tracks) this will easily return in end of year lists as having been one of THE metal release of 2012 – catch it while you can (here), Cultura Tres are simply phenomenal.

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