ALBUM REVIEW: Cult of Luna – ‘The Long Road North’

Words by Camilla Astrid Strand

I don’t know what was in the waters of the planet in the early 1990’s, but there was something going on that made music revolutions occur across the globe. In Norway we saw the emergence of Black Metal, a dissonant DIY doom filled genre which saw the musicians and members of this musical subculture burning down churches to demonstrate their resentment at the stronghold and effect of Christianity. Across the border in Sweden, and about 600km north of Stockholm, something else was brewing in a tiny town by the name of Umeå.

In the early 90’s, in the subarctic town of Umeå, an emerging subculture would lead to Umeå being titled the Hardcore Capital of Europe. Whilst church fires raged in Norway, in Northern Sweden the militant vegan values of the Umeå Hardcore scene saw the fire-bombings of meat-industry facilities and the creation of bands like Refused, Doughnuts, Abhinanda and The Bombettes. In 1998 a band would come forth and go on to have a genre-defying and creatively experimental career spanning over two decades – Cult of Luna.

Though prior Cult of Luna albums were based around a concept, like their 2013 album ‘Vertikal’ inspired by the film Metropolis, and the 2016 space themed album ‘Mariner’, Cult of Luna began a series of more intuitive works beginning with 2019’s ‘A Dawn to Fear’, followed up with 2021’s ‘The Raging River’ EP, and now the conclusion of this series is upon us, ‘The Long Road North’ being released February 11th 2022 via Metal Blade Records.

Sometimes compared to other post-metal bands like Neurosis, Isis & Amenra, Cult of Luna often has a non-traditional song structure, instead opting for creating cinematic soundscapes in order to create emotional experiences that ebb and flow between feelings of darkness, doom and beauty, before slapping you in the face with skull crushing walls of sound and tension.

Opening ‘The Long Road North’ is Cold Burn, an exciting and powerfully evocative track, in which the energy and intensity builds throughout, showing off Cult of Luna’s intense yet somehow intimatestyle, and Johannes Persson’s powerful and raw thrash vocals. Cold Burn is released with an accompanying video, which is a mesmerizing VR-like journey through tornado filled snowfields that only serve to enhance the opening track and create a lot of excitement for me as to what is happening not only in the video, but in this album.

The Silver Arc brings distorted guitars, falling synths and an aggressive energy that hints at shades of A Perfect Circle for me. What links these two bands is their highly developed emotional sense. The dynamics of each track masterfully taking you on a journey alongside Cult of Luna. The Silver Arc is beautifully contemplative before the tension is increased by the drums of Thomas Hedlund. The melodic progressions maybe bordering on minimalist but the simplicity seems to bolster the emotional effect.

The craft of Cult of Luna is undeniably powerful in Beyond I. Goosebumps cover my skin’s surface as spooky chimes send me straight away into a dark forest at night. A sonic space which only gets more intensely exciting when you hear the haunting vocals of Mariam Wallentin, an internationally acclaimed Swedish Jazz vocalist, also known for her singing on the Raised by Wolves theme song. Mariam Wallentin’s voice is perfect for the mood conveyed in Beyond I. My only criticism for this song is its run time, a shockingly short 3 minutes for Cult of Luna.

An Offering to the Wild starts off slow burning, the guitar bringing forth the main melody as approaching arpeggiated synths dart through the at-first quite chilled beats, before the tension is expertly ramped up, with vocals kicking in halfway through this 12-minute track. Johannes Persson’s growling screams increase the power and intensity in an otherwise peaceful landscape, with the guitars growing more and more chaotic as the song concludes. I can only imagine this means the offering is occurring. The chaotic crescendo breaks out into a single tone ending the track and you know the offering has been done. Will the Wild accept it?

Into the Night sees Frederick Kihlberg’s melodic vocal style on display and it is deep and gorgeous. Into the Night is a much more down tempo track that doesn’t release the chaotic instrumentation until nearly the end, creating a wall of sound as a climax to the song.

Full Moon once again sends me back to Beyond I with the haunting sounds, however this track has an almost country twang to the guitars, giving way to solemn yet contemplative synths which are really pretty and once again giving me shades of A Perfect Circle.

The titular track The Long Road North has Cult of Luna creating an epic journey of a song that engulfs you. Like a literal road trip, this song starts out beautifully but about halfway through, this track dives in and then starts to torture you. There seems to be no reprieve, even when the vocals break away it is only in order to introduce hard-hitting almost militant drums, as if you were running from a threat, and in my mind, it’s an extra-terrestrial car chase up the highway to Umeå. By the end of The Long Road North the tension has pushed past the pretence of politeness and directly into ear bursting territory.

In Blood upon Stone Cult of Luna has recruited friends Christian Mazzalai and Laurent Brancowitz from the French indie pop band Phoenix to spice things up. This track is the most energetic of the whole album, and is made for head banging. The title of this track once again hints to some sort of sacrificial incident possibly relating to the arrival home. I can’t help but be transported to episode 1 of the Norwegian horror anthology Bloodride where everyone is killing what is dear to them for money.

For the final track ofThe Long Road North’ – Beyond II, Cult of Luna recruited Colin Stetson, who is most recently is known for his work on the Hereditary OST. As with Beyond I the darkness is apparent, Beyond II immediately transports me into some other world where the spookiness is palpable and show off Cult of Luna’s ability to envelope you into some other place sonically.

‘The Long Road North’ being released this February 11th by Metal Blade Records is an expertly crafted cinematic soundscape of an album drenched in emotional affect. Pre order HERE.

Cult of Luna line-up:
Johannes Persson – Guitars, Vocals
Andreas Johansson – Bass
Thomas Hedlund – Drums & Percussion
Fredrik Kihlberg – Guitars, Vocals
Kristian Karlsson- Keyboards, Vocals
Magnus Lindberg – Production

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With thanks to Maric Media

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