When a musician or producer hails from a known audio holy land, there always looms the shadow of a Mount Rushmore over any release to come out of that area. Vancouver, of course, is one of those legendary cities known for heavy electronic beats. So, what does an artist like Skull Cultist do? Give way to the obvious ghosts of Ogre, Key, Leeb, and Fulber and clone themselves on the 3D printer of industrial? Or do they carefully carve their own name into the peaks of Canadian EBM?
With this So Happy EP from Skull Cultist, our money is on the latter. Steve Saunders – a.k.a. Mr. Zoth – continues where he left off with the earlier 2023 EP Blood Carvings, and allows the listener to get a bit deeper into his psyche. Right from the opening title track, Skull Cultist diverts from needing 1,001 layers of bit-crushed percussion loops and opts for straightforward bass, kick, and synth pad thickness to pull you in. With the dueling male/female vocals and samples, it becomes clear that Skull Cultist’s strength lies in a minimalistic approach. “_Dig Two Graves_” is a prime example of just that as the pulsating mechanical bass frequencies paired with sparse vocoder vocals pull the listener into the overall tone Saunders produces, so you can focus on the groove instead of whether you can hear a sixth or seventh synth lead. And while the higher BPM efforts such as “BREAK THAT FUCKER” and “Insulin Shocked” could fit nicely into any DJ set at any underground dancefloor or dungeon the world over, Skull Cultist shines brightest (darkest?) when the tempo is more plotting and brooding, such as on “Harvesting Season – When the Hills Ran Red”’ or “Days Without Sorrow.” He could easily chase his victims wildly with a chainsaw if needed, but he gets his best kills moving at a Michael Myers pace.
From his soundscapes, jarring low end, and stomping beats, one might say there are sections of this EP that are reminiscent of early ‘90s Numb and Cyberaktif where less is always more. But Saunders never succumbs to being an imitation of the obvious hometown influences, only briefly nodding at them as they pass each other along Seymour Street enroute to the Coffin Club. Skull Cultist has a way to go before they sit alongside the West Vancouver titans, but they are definitely driving in a smart direction to get there.