Cult Of Luna

support Brutus + This Gift Is A Curse
author AP date 17/10/19 venue Pumpehuset, Copenhagen, DEN

As the days grow shorter and autumn shows its true colours by whipping Denmark with rain and wind, one of the best things to be doing is attending concerts, especially those featuring artists whose music is dark and evocative, or otherwise in tune with the season. Cult of Luna is such a band, and having just released the masterful “A Dawn to Fear” last month, the turnout at Pumpehuset is expectedly high, bordering on sold out. I won’t lie: the Umeå-based group ranks among my all-time favourites, and it feels like every time I get the chance to watch them live, I end up falling even deeper in love with the sludgy grandeur of their music. The last time this happened was at the iconic Roadburn Festival in 2018, where the six musicians were joined by Julie Christmas for a truly magical rendition of “Mariner”, and as such, I am anxious to find out tonight, whether the band has what it takes to rival the majesty of that show without the help of a stunning collaborator like Christmas.

All photos courtesy of Peter Troest


This Gift Is A Curse

In charge of opening the proceedings is an outfit I never thought I would witness in this context. It would also be surprising to me if at least some of the crowd didn’t take a step back in terror as the band in question, This Gift Is a Curse, unleash the first blast of their chaotic, grinding black metal, sending tremors through the venue. Separating the instruments in the mix proves to be an impossible task for the sound engineer on duty, which unfortunately means that tracks such as “Blood Is My Harvest” (taken from this year’s “A Throne of Ash”) sound even more cacophonous than they do on record. It is thus hard to find head or tail in many of the songs, with only the slower and quite atmospheric “Monuments for Dead Gods” offering a route into this band’s pitch black universe here. Nevertheless, the five musicians succeed in setting the mood dial on pure evil by combining the apocalyptic sound of their music with hellish red lighting that renders them faceless in the darkness, and whining feedback in between the songs. Clocking in at just 25 minutes, the concert is extremely short, and since it is marred by an unforgiving mix for vast swathes of the setlist, it is hard to imagine This Gift Is a Curse walking away from here with a slew of new fans in tow. It certainly is a far cry from the last time I saw the band live in 2012, when they enlisted the simple yet effective prop of rags soaked in tar to create an infernal smell inside the venue, and in general came across as far more intense and confrontational than is the case now. I am far from bored, but honestly, the setting feels wrong; this is a band that needs to be experienced up close and personal.

6


Brutus

As the Muse-like intro to “War” (taken from Brutus’ latest album “Nest”) is picked out by guitarist Stijn Vanhoegaerden, I am immediately struck by how crisp and loud the sound is. This is crucial, as the Belgian trio’s brand of post-hardcore demands a good separation of instruments in the mix in order to be able to convey all of the intricacies embedded into their music. And just like at the band’s headlining concert at Ideal Bar earlier this year, I find myself endlessly impressed by drummer Stefanie Mannaerts, who, as well as handling her instrument with passion and prowess, is able to sing so well at the same time. Indeed, the energy she pours into her performance in the following “Cemetery” is astounding, and it is a wonder that she does not snap one of her drumsticks even once during it or any of the subsequent songs. But it is not only her powerful, high-strung voice nor the intensity of her antics behind the drums that makes such an impression — it is also the amount of texture in the patterns she employs in tracks like “Horde II” and “Justice de Julia II” (both from the band’s 2017 début “Burst”), and the way those patterns intertwine with the driving, Blood Command-reminiscent bass lines laid down by Peter Mulders and the tremolo leads soaring out of Vanhoegaerden’s six strings. Combined with the high volume of the mix, the result is a litany of songs that completely envelops the room in a dreamy, yet afflicted atmosphere which reaches its pinnacle with the arrival of the towering epic “Sugar Dragon” in the end of the set. This song draws an enraptured reaction from the audience and shows us exactly why Brutus have been gathering so much attention and hype this year. Not only are the three musicians skilled song-writers — they also boast incredible showmanship, with especially Mannaerts, but also to a satisfying degree Vanhoegaerden & Mulders, never seeming to run out of breath during the 11-track salvo tonight. Indeed, great things lie in store for these dealers of melancholia, who are certain to keep striking awe into the hearts and minds of critics and fans alike as their skyward trajectory continues in the years to come.

8


Cult Of Luna

Only seldom has a concert left me struggling to find the right words to describe it, and this is the second time that Cult of Luna have succeeded in doing exactly that. There is no reason to write a teaser in such cases, either — better not to beat around the bush and conclude, without further ado, that the spectacle to which some 600 people bear witness this evening is perfect. It begins with “The Silent Man” (the opening track to the Umeå-based post-metallers’ latest full-length “A Dawn to Fear”), and not many minutes have elapsed before jaws are dropping toward the floor in awe of the performance unfolding before our eyes. In the live setting, Cult of Luna’s usual six-man configuration is bolstered by an additional drummer, Christian Augustin, and his contribution to the band’s live sound cannot be understated. There is so much depth in the rhythm section, and it strikes a stark contrast against the quadruple source of mysterious melodies that is the three guitarists, frontman Johannes Persson, as well as Fredrik Kihlberg & Magnus Lindberg, and keyboardist/organist Kristian Karlsson. With seven musicians thus on stage, you can imagine how monolithic the Swedish outfit sounds live, and crucially, they are helped along by magisterial mixing by the sound engineer on duty. It sounds perfect.

The interchanging red and white strobes flickering during the crescendo of the opener provide a promising start to the visual production on which so much of the group’s performance depends, and honestly, it is hard to remember a better lightshow having accompanied a concert than this. Cult of Luna relies exclusively on moody hues and reject any light from the front, and when the classic “Finland” (off 2006’s “Somewhere Along the Highway”) takes over, no one with a sense of aesthetics can deny that the resulting silhouette effect on the musicians renders the proceedings that much more evocative, not to mention gives the level of intensity a massive boost. And as the audience is bound into a spell, the seven musicians drain every last reservoir of energy they have to ensure that our jaws remain glued to the floor. Everyone wielding a proverbial axe — that is, the three guitarists and bassist Andreas Johansson — is taking turns to entertain the crowd, leaning over the edge of the stage to brandish their instruments, while the rest are rubbing shoulders and backs or, in the case of Karlsson, Augustin & the regular drummer Thomas Hedlund, headbanging so wildly it is a wonder there aren’t any imperfections to be heard in the delivery of the music. All seven musicians are exerting themselves as if tomorrow might never come, like marionettes fallen victim to the magic of their own creation, and as a result, the show looks perfect.

As the newest member in the fold, Karlsson is of course keen to make his own mark on the music, and one of the best examples of his improvisation occurs in the monumental “I: The Weapon” (off 2013’s “Vertikal”), his sheets of synth taking on a far more psychedelic character than those of his predecessor, Anders Teglund. It reveals an aspect of the band that is already quite prominent on the new album, and when his style is applied to these older songs, it feels like discovering a new dimension in a song that you thought you knew inside out. Another intriguing discovery on tonight’s setlist is the dark neofolk piece “And with Her Came the Birds”, which is a welcome first for me as far as the concerts with Cult of Luna that I have seen in the past go. It reminds me of Nine Inch Nails’ “Hurt” as interpreted by Johnny Cash and, in the wake of the atavistic “Nightwalkers”, it offers six minutes of calm respite in a set that is otherwise dominated by heavy and colossal picks. One of these monoliths is “Lights on the Hill”, which I had been hoping to hear tonight, after it swept me off my feet when I first heard it on the new album. It does not disappoint — everything about it seems to be amplified in the live setting, its quiet start sounding even eerier, and the final crescendo reaching otherworldly proportions as it rolls over us. At this point I should say that tears have begun to glisten in my eyes and what I feel like doing the most, is bowing out of respect. This rattling by the collar is almost too much to take, which makes it a relief to hear the dreamy and ethereal “Passing Through” arrive in the wake of “In Awe of”, providing a moment to collect myself.

It is only a brief mercy, however, as primally pounding drums and ringing guitars soon announce the beginning of “The Fall”, which — though it is a brand new song as well — is an inspired choice for bringing the set to a conclusion. Its tug-of-war between some of the heaviest segments Cult of Luna have ever conceived (some of which witness Augustin pounding a tambourine against the rim of one of his tom-toms) and segments of shoegazing plays like a summary of the setlist, and like so much of Cult of Luna’s material, it delivers the kind of cathartic, endlessly escalating crescendo that every concert deserves to finish with. It is hardly a surprise then, that as the seven musicians lift their instruments into the air once more to signal their imminent departure, we are all stomping the floor, hoping they could be convinced to deliver an encore. Alas, no such encore is given, but that hardly makes a difference considering that what we have just seen is without question one of the most majestic and unforgettable concert experiences of my music reviewing career yet. I don’t think I have ever awarded the coveted 10/10 to any band more than once, but hell, there had to be a first!

10

Setlist:

  • 01. The Silent Man
  • 02. Finland
  • 03. Nightwalkers
  • 04. I: The Weapon
  • 05. And with Her Came the Birds
  • 06. Lights on the Hill
  • 07. In Awe of
  • 08. Passing Through
  • 09. The Fall

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