Palace of Worms – Cabal (Acephale Winter Productions)Monday, 13th February 2023
Artists who create what they want without bucking to standard convention will always have my utmost respect. This cannot be a truer statement about Balan and his fascinatingly peculiar solo project Palace of Worms, which has been going since 2007. Having first come across them in 2010 with Lifting the Veil, Balan’s releases tend to vary stylistically, but here’s a go at categorization: death/doom/black metal with kooky synths, jazzy song structures, and a variety of vocal styles. The Ladder back in 2016 was an interesting piece that was a reliable listen if something completely different struck the mood. Now, we come to the present day with 2023’s Cabal.
Immediately, “Telepathic Crucifixion” sets the table with what to expect – the unexpected. From the western film shot in space synth heavy acoustic intro, to the slow build of layered psychedelic doom guitars, and galloping riffs that end the song, there’s a ton to unpack. “Bizarre Blood and Exhumations” is somewhat less on the avant-garde path, hitting a death/doom stride with slower rhythms, well-placed lead guitars, along with clean vocals pieces that come straight out of nowhere.
From the horror-inspired synths and crunchy riffs of “Through the Dark Arches” to gothic metal accompanied by saxophones with “When the Stones Come Tumbling Down,” it’s blatantly apparent to expect constant twists. Title track “Cabal” is a trippy, synth-laden piece with creepy clean vocals acting as a bridge to the equally strange “Cessation of the Heart,” which is old school gothic rock with Peter Steele-inspired uber low clean verses. “Rebirth of Nihil” features apt female clean vocals contrasting with death growls, occasional haunted house-esque organs, and eclectically intriguing guitar work. The song also ends somewhat awkwardly by a keyboard-driven ambient outro that feels out of place, considering the abrupt transition to final track “Winterbird,” of which wraps up proceedings with sitars and more time changes than Doc Brown’s Delorean.
It would be remiss to not mention the long list of guest musicians who contributed to large portions of Cabal, including Lycus/Silence in the Snow/ex-Deafheaven’s Trevor Deschryver, Noctooa’s Sammy Fielding, Thief’s Dylan Neal, Botanist’s Roberto Martinelli, Ulthar/Vastum’s Shelby Lermo, amongst a host of others. All undoubtedly add their own piece to this complex puzzle.
Supposedly the last release from Palace of Worms, Cabal is a fitting finale, if that indeed does end up being the case. Balan’s avant-garde and eccentric style with this project provides much to digest in a densely packed 50 minutes of mayhem. The massive array of styles and influences doesn’t feel completely disjointed, per say, but doesn’t always flow as well as this listener would like to hear, resulting in some jarring moments. Nevertheless, Cabal is a generally enjoyable experience that should be given time to breathe and settle before making an ultimate verdict. Hopefully, we hear a lot more music from Balan in the near future, as his creativity is undeniable.