Album Review: Palace of Worms — “Cabal”

I’m not active on social media much anymore, so I get the news that artists I love are releasing new albums mainly through trolling our promo planner, which means I constantly get the pleasant surprise of seeing names I haven’t in a long while pop back up again. Such is the case with Northern California’s Palace of Worms, back with their first new full-length in seven years, Cabal.

Palace of Worms were a band completely unknown to me until 2016, when I started hearing praise from people I trusted about The Ladder, the band’s most recent full-length at the time. It was a striking album, unique in its vision, managing to mix elements of many genres of metal and less heavy music that I loved in a way that felt fresh and compelling. It captured my attention all that year, managing to land at number four on my Best Of list for 2016 (the very first end-of-year list I wrote for this site!). It was the one album on my list that I wished I saw more on other peoples’; lists are personal, and I never try to disparage what is at the end of the day a subjective series of choices, but The Ladder felt like such a unique experience that I wished it seemed like other people felt what I did listening to it.

It pleases me to no end that I can feel that same sense of excitement upon first listen to Cabal. In the years between full-lengths, the band has released a series of splits that showcase a shift towards a more death-metal inspired sound, but the through line between these albums is immediately apparent in the way they fearlessly explore any and all avenues available. While the core of Palace of Worms’ sound is rooted in a kind of blackened death-doom, to pigeonhole them as anything like that would be to sell the music wildly short. Take opening track “Telepathic Crucifixion,” which begins with a lonesome, melotron-inflected folksy dirge before ramping up the intensity and understand that this is literally just the start of Cabal. The hefty death-doom riffs on these songs are mere backdrop for their vibrant experimentation, layering on everything from wistful post-black metal to droning goth rock, from progressive jam sections to saxophone solos, and even legitimate ventures into trip-hop inspired electronica via the album’s title track. It all seems like it should be too much, but there is never a point where it feels like Cabal loses the forest for the trees. The songs are flashy without being over-the-top, progressive in ethos without falling into ‘prog metal’ trappings and woven by hands that balance tasteful composition with unabashed creativity. Everything here just works, or at the very least makes sense in my own brain.

Cabal is exactly the kind of album I look for these days: the hardest possible to classify. It is an album that manages to take you down a series of winding musical paths without having any of those paths seem shoehorned in. If sources are to be believed that this will be the final Palace of Worms album, then I can think of no better statement for the band to ride out into the sunset on.

Cabal will be released February 3rd on Acephale Winter Productions. For more information on Palace of Worms, or to wish the band a proper farewell, check out their Facebook page.

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