Cuscuta is a band that is almost too easy to pigeonhole, but “The Wildness Within” shows enough promise that there is no reason to discount the project as just another clone. Black metal, post-rock influences, trees on the cover art, appeal to nature ethos, and even a song titled “Atavism and the Destruction of Civilization.” In a general sense, yes all of this gives you a glaringly obvious idea of how the solo project sounds, i.e. Cascadian (so what if Cuscuta happens to be from Colorado?) But the exciting parts of this rather dry album include some unique hints of deeply ethereal and pensive atmospheres. Apart from those moments, “The Wildness Within” also has the somewhat useful quality of not drawing much attention to itself, allowing the listener to pass time with little thought. This is a great quality for people with a taste for ambient music, but will be only a sign of tameness for everyone else.
Both of the two songs on “The Wildness Within” are soft affairs clocking in at around twenty minutes each. If not overly exciting, their introspective moods serve up a pleasant mix of wispy clean tremolo guitar lines and louder distorted post-black moments. In this sense, Cuscuta tread quite close to being metal in name only; few parts of the album can be thought of as riff driven, and the softer bits make a up a large portion. This isn’t a problem for the album though, as it focuses more on atmosphere than melody. The vivid highpoint of the atmosphere, and the album itself, is in the very beginning. Somber clean vocals provide a low and quiet choral background to the delicate clean guitars. These clean vocals add a nice color to the mood, and the parts without them are frankly ineffectual in comparison.
Still, the mood is very consistent, and the grand hall reverb on the percussion help keep the album from sounding too sparse. The addition of a radio-quality spoken word sample in the second song however is a jarring deviation from the ghostly mood that haunts the rest of the music. Even worse is that the lyrics are just soap-boxing, completely naked messages without being clothed the slightest bit in artistry - a political version of the “I’m sad because you broke up with me” type lyrics we all hate. An excerpt: “What if this occupied country called itself a democracy, but most everyone understood elections to be shams?” I have a better question, what if you didn’t take the “Questions for Discussion” from the chapter-end of a political science 101 book and try to pass them off as lyrics? It doesn’t jive at all, especially when the rest of the vocals are almost uniformly Wrest-styled, distant rasps with a slight tinge of gurgle. The same lyrics in the earlier impressive choral style would have been sublime and really helped to tie things together conceptually.
“The Wildness Within” should satisfy fans of the lighter side of atmospheric or post black metal, but it will also leave you wondering what could have been with a more immersive and layered approach. The project has it’s own identity but still needs to grow into it a bit, especially in further developing the clean guitar lines, volume dynamics, and hopefully the choral vocal approach. Cuscuta doesn’t rely too heavily on either metal or post-rock ideas, which may help in fleshing things out in future releases. Growth is necessary because ambient chill-out music is fine for what it is, but there needs to be a little something more to heft things into the foreground.