2018’s Demon Hero and Other Extraordinary Phantasmagoric Anomalies and Fables was quite the comeback album for The Clay People, acting as a sort of amalgam of all the group had achieved up to that point, complete with covers and references to the band’s past output. With this sixth full-length album, Cult Hypnotica finally sees The Clay People embracing the here, now, and what is to come, continuing to pursue a more effective balance of the industrialized rock that first defined the band in the ‘90s and the alt. rock and metal assault we’ve now come to identify with the group.
Where the preceding album was created in the midst of vocalist Dan Neet’s substance abuse and recovery, Cult Hypnotica begins with a firm declaration of defiance against those demons; he shouts, “The Drugs (Are Not Working),” the words almost like a mantra atop the muscular riffs and solos of guitarists Brian McGarvey and Jared Weed and bassist Eric Braymer, and underscored by Dan Dinsmore’s groovy but powerful drumming. Never a band to downplay a love for the creepiness of classic horror, the album is adorned with moments that revel delightfully in it, such as in the maniacal laughter and repetitions of “The wheel in the sky goes round-and-round” on “Radio V,” or more especially in “House of Secrets,” the thrusting rhythms and riffs with samples and light synths giving it that touch of eeriness, along with the chorus of “Welcome to a new terror / Welcome to the astonishing and strange.” This is also true of “Turn Me On,” as the processional chanting layers are compounded by “the amazing Damien Grief” introducing us to the horror show; harmonized ostinato guitars and vocals immediately instill a sense of excited unease that, quite honestly, would’ve made this a better choice of introductory track for the album.
Some songs like the aforementioned “Radio V,” “Psychic Suicide,” and “The Legend of Mr. Boots” are rather direct in the simplicity of their alt. metal assault, wasting no time hitting the listener with guttural riff chugging and punchy beats and bass that are ripe for the moshpit. As well, it’s true that the band hasn’t been averse to the odd pop flavoring, and “Victoria Queen” is the closest Cult Hypnotica comes to this with its angular hammer-on riffs and rather catchy chorus. That line of “her voice inviting, eerily exciting” is so purely The Clay People. Yet even in those tracks are the subtle traces of tightly programmed and tastefully mixed electronics to keep the band’s sound planted in the machine rock vibe. This is even more prevalent on “Destroy All Humans” as the distorted vocoder refrain comes across like a militant Cylon wet dream, the hammering thrust of the instrumental sounding like a tense chase through a mechanical dystopia, while the gated guitar and keyboards of “She Loves” give it a ‘60s psychedelic ambience. And then, there is the title track with its grungy riffs and dynamic progressions, Neet’s raspy but melodic delivery given added weight by some entrancing synths, the lyrics addressing the more tangible horrors of groupthink so predominant in corporatism, governments, and the music industry. “Wake & Rise” concludes the album in a similar vein, the closest that The Clay People has come to an overt protest track, encouraging us to “not lose the course” and to “stay vigilant.”
To some, Cult Hypnotica will sound like a quintessential album from The Clay People… and in truth, it is. But where the album prevails in its pristine execution of those characteristics of the band’s sound, finely honed and sharpened, while also finally looking forward rather than relying on passing references to the past. Any that exist are purely those elements that are intrinsic to The Clay People’s established sound, and with the band writing and performing at the top of its game and without a thing to prove. And just as the lyrics to “Destroy All Humans” state, “It’ only in its first season / Promise more / More blood, more gore, more shock.”