Cult Of Luna

A Dawn To Fear

Written by: AP on 16/10/2019 19:47:52

Six years have elapsed since Cult of Luna last issued a full-length album of their own, though it is hard to imagine anyone complaining about the long wait, considering that the Umeå-based post-metallers did use the time to record and release “Mariner” — their masterful collaboration with Julie Christmas. And honestly, even if the six-piece had not poured their creative genius into that effort, this eighth and latest offering “A Dawn to Fear” would still have justified the lengthy interim, as Cult of Luna have not sounded this compelling or vital since 2006’s “Somewhere Along the Highway”. That record was a crucial moment in the evolution of post-metal, and as such, it did not surprise me when it felt like the band was searching for, but not quite finding another epiphany on the two albums that followed it: “Eternal Kingdom” and “Vertikal”. While both of those outings are prime examples of the genre in their own right, it is hard to dismiss the perspective that Cult of Luna were definitely not operating at the apex of their abilities on either one of them.

Cult of Luna is, and never has been an entry-level band as far as post-metal goes. One needs to have a predisposition for the genre in order to reap the full rewards, especially given the sextet’s refusal to constrain the bounds of their imagination. Listen to anything from their repertoire, and you will be faced with the six musicians catching a figment and pursuing it until exhaustion — which in turn translates into not only lengthy songs, but lengthy albums as well. “A Dawn to Fear” is no exception, its eight tracks spanning across some 79 minutes of runtime and thereby setting high expectations on the listener in terms of digging in and paying attention to the bombardment of the senses that is about to commence. As a murky bass riff and ritualistically pounding drums announce the arrival of the opening track and lead single “The Silent Man”, it feels like the music has never sounded rawer or more atavistic, but the thought is only fleeting, as shortly thereafter, swathes of esoteric keyboard by Kristian Karlsson sweep over the rumble and bring in their wake the familiar, scourging growls of frontman Johannes Persson. It sounds like textbook Cult of Luna and yet, something feels different — in a deeply satisfying way. What that something is continues to evade and haunt me until a shoegazing quietus in the middle gives way to the final crescendo, in which it is not the trifecta of guitars wielded by Persson and his two cohorts, Fredrik Kihlberg & Magnus Lindberg, that stands out, but the dramatic organ and soaring ‘80s sci-fi keys brought into the mix by the newest member Karlsson, who joined the band in 2015 and is thus making his début on a ‘proper’ Cult of Luna album here. Compared to his predecessor Anders Teglund, his style is more histrionic, and his presence more ubiquitous on the record, which seems to be one of the main drivers of why the material on “A Dawn to Fear” sounds exceptionally grandiose even by this band’s usual standards.

Of course, part of that grandeur also stems from the songwriting prowess collectively possessed by the band. While it is not exactly news that Persson & co. are skilled in the musical arts, it does feel like that skill was honed to perfection on “Mariner”, and that the lessons learned have carried over to this latest offering as well. The act of balancing the dense and disgorging influences from doom and sludge metal with the scintillating cinema of post-rock is immaculate, producing some of the most evocative and transcendental songs ever to grace Cult of Luna’s repertoire, with the depressedly lumbering title track providing a fine example. The juxtaposition of glum clean guitar notes in the low register on the one hand, and washings of ethereal organ and synth and soaring tremolo melodies on the other, renders “A Dawn to Fear” a mesmerising listen. It also builds up tension for the following “Nightwalkers”, which lays bare the huge influence of Isis and Neurosis that lives in the core of Cult of Luna’s music, droning eerily and rumbling with malice until droplets of melody start congregating in the high end. It also shines the spotlight on the often-overlooked and, in my opinion, criminally underrated asset on Cult of Luna’s roster: namely drummer Thomas Hedlund, whose ideas for the rhythmic foundation on this album are sometimes out of this world. It is not often one considers dusting off those dancing shoes when listening to Cult of Luna, but that is honestly the effect of his antics in the second half of “Nightwalkers” — and his contribution to the subsequent “Lights on the Hill” deserves even stronger praise. But then, it is hard to pinpoint one standout performer in a song which glimmers as the consummate highlight of the record.

If someone was to devise the guidelines for composing the perfect piece of post-rock or -metal, then “Lights on the Hill” should feature heavily in the references. It is quite simple a masterstroke of songwriting. Subtle and teasing at first, it gradually escalates the volume and intensity, as layer upon layer is progressively added to its towering frame, and is eventually resolved in not one, but two climaxes gargantuan in their scope, and cathartic in their effect. Clocking in at more than 15 minutes, it allows the musicians so much room to breathe and dwell on their myriad ideas, and to construct not merely a song, but a monolith of progressive post-metal. After drinking from this gauntlet of emotion, it is only natural that one should feel overwhelmed — and there is respite to be had in the understated and at times symphonic “We Feel the End”, which, despite racking up more than 7 minutes of runtime, plays like an intermezzo leading up to the final showdown. First, the listener is reminded why Cult of Luna is often likened to The Ocean (or rather, vice versa), via the jagged rhythm and alarming tone of “Inland Rain”, before everything comes crashing down in “The Fall” in a final, apocalyptic display of fireworks, like writing the signature to a masterpiece.

”In the absence of light, we merge with our shadows”, posits Persson in the opening track, and truly, his words provide the finest summary of “A Dawn to Fear” I can think of. What renders music worthwhile for me is when it makes me feel things, and when it makes me want to embrace and immerse myself in those feelings regardless of their nature. Pessimistic, hopeful, distraught, relieved… “A Dawn to Fear” evokes all of these emotions and then some, swaddling the listener in its vast soundscapes and complex arrangements, driving them toward reflection and, ultimately, some kind of epiphany. While all of this might sound overly philosophical — we are talking about a metal album, after all — Cult of Luna genuinely do excel at capturing emotions and sensations and translating these into sounds and songs. “A Dawn to Fear” sees that process perfected, and as such, it is one of the best and most crucial albums of the year thus far.


Download: The Silent Man, A Dawn to Fear, Nightwalkers, Lights on the Hill
For the fans of: Amenra, Isis, Neurosis, The Ocean, Rosetta
Listen: Facebook

Release date 20.09.2019
Metal Blade Records

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