The recent revival of folk music in the indie scene emphasizes the genre’s whispery, introspective bent. That one-sidedness does folk a disservice: As often as not throughout the centuries, the music has been a tool for ritual, protest, and visceral catharsis. Cult Of Youth remembers. On its sadly overlooked, self-titled sophomore effort, the Brooklyn group has focused the force and ditched the pseudo-industrial flourishes of its 2008 debut, A Stick To Bind, A Seed To Grow. What’s left is a work of potent, primal folk that, while harshly militant and utilitarian, is neither deaf to nuance nor immune to beauty.
The biggest upgrade is the flesh that frontman Sean Ragon has packed onto his band. Where Stick sounded like a muffled bedroom recording, Cult Of Youth shudders then thunders with horns, strings, pulsing basslines, and galloping drums. But it’s Ragon’s barking roar and stark acoustic strumming that have gained the most muscle. On “New West,” he warns of a personified fury—“Just know that he is at your door tonight / Just know that he is at your heels tonight”—that invokes a nearly pagan sense of awe, one that that might have emanated from 19th-century America or 11th-century Britain. More contemporary is “Lace Up Your Boots,” a martial clarion-call that lets hints of post-punk-influenced folk—most notably Death In June and New Model Army—bleed onto the battlefield.
But for every gouging, stomping, pounding track, Cult Of Youth offers a palliative. Only those are even more bitter. “Through The Fear” is the most lush, melodic use of Ragon’s stentorian chants and skeletal guitar, but his worshipful talk of “an ever-darkening sun” is downright funereal. “Casting Thorns” begins with minor chords and fog-shrouded violin before kicking the balladry aside to reveal a blackened heart, a thirst for vengeance, and upward spirals of discordant abandon. And Ragon taps into those elemental, eons-old reservoirs of darkness with the glee of a druidic priest. Fiery instead of flowery, Cult Of Youth subverts the indie-folk mainstream in the most profound way imaginable: by being, at its core, far folkier.