ALBUM REVIEW: The Long Road North (CULT OF LUNA)
ALBUM The Long Road North // ARTIST Cult Of Luna
There's metal and post-metal bands, and then there's Cult of Luna. Remarkable, hulking and unforgettably ambitious, it's on the group's impending new album The Long Road North that blistering schematics and cinematic awe converge into vividity mere mortals can only dream of; and it's truly an unparalleled voyage.
Staking their claim as prolific post-metal luminaries for over two decades, Swedish behemoths Cult of Luna have continually enamoured and astonished with their immersive and enigmatic flavours that continue to strengthen and flourish since forming way back in the late 90s.
Rising from the ashes of a defunct hardcore punk band in 1998, Cult Of Luna's initial favour was fittingly found in underground fashion via their 2001 debut self-titled full-length and 2003's The Beyond. But it was in 2004 that the broader world started to cotton on to the obvious fact this collective from Umeå was something truly exquisite; a sonically spacious and audacious band who, over time, shed its doomish earlier influences and instead embraced post rock sobriety, orchestral rumbles and towering crescendos that defied definition.
For anyone in the Cult of Luna know, this is a group extremely adept at churning out songs well and truly beyond the eight-minute mark; but in a rare change of pace compared to some other groups who posture and meander on seemingly for the sake of it, not one moment in time is ever wasted or taken for granted in the Cult of Luna universe. And while the group's recent offerings, 2019's A Dawn To Fear and an EP last year with The Raging River, delighted fans and offered a tantalising bridge to the future, the journey started on A Dawn To Fear was incomplete, as the band themselves confirmed - and in 2022, this sonic trek will now reach its cultivated apex and conclusion, with the impending new full-length The Long Road North due out this week.
Kicking off with a bombastic, droning opener that would momentarily be at home on a Christopher Nolan soundtrack, intro track Cold Burn is a surging atmospheric wasteland populated entirely with colossal distortion, cascading rhythics and gravelled vocals. While by no means the longest track on the album, clocking in just shy of 10 minutes, Cold Burn finds the group revelling in cinematic menace while leaning full bore into post rock riffage that seductively lures you into sumptuous and calamitous oblivion.
The Silver Arc toes the line to its almighty predecessor Cold Burn, equally touting brawn and elegant abrasion. But then in swings the swooning Beyond I, brandishing stripped back moments of rumination with the powerhouse whisky-soaked stylings of guest Swedish vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Mariam Wallentin. Across a surprising run time of a mere three minutes, Beyond I is akin to a brooding James Bond theme song, stripped to its viscous core, leaving as quickly as it came before the absolute scene-stealing moment that is An Offering to the Wild.
Undoubtedly the heart and crux of the journey woven throughout The Long Road North, An Offering to the Wild is utterly heartbreaking in its beauty and increasingly bold arrangement, darkly ebbing and fluidly flowing into a torrid climax of gritty vocals and paramount execution across the board. While key instrumental moments offer significant junctions for key individuals to shine, the entire band concurrently rises entirely to the occasion on this truly monumental track, and the viscosity practically sticks to your bones long after the wispy drones trail off.
Straight after, Into The Night creeps in like a haunted lullaby as vocalist Johannes Persson huskily purrs in near-theatrical fashion, followed by the dusty, stomping dirge of Full Moon and the album's title track with an intro that would fittingly score a hallucinogenic midnight visit to the Mojave Desert, before erupting into a no-holds-barred fanfare of vigorous riffs and cohesively morose soundscapes.
And just when you thought you'd heard all the dizzying high points The Long Road North has to offer, in swings the magnificent beast Blood Upon Stone; an absolute Cult of Luna classic in the making, firmly drawing on whispers of the band's previous sonic iteratons while gifting a raw and utterly caustic adventure laden with fiery riffs, narcotic snarls and the sensation of traversing the dark night sky while the world burns below. And just as the album began in slightly grandiose fashion, closing track Beyond II instead gurgles with divergent opiate ambience - and fittingly so, given the guest appearance of Colin Stetson on the album outro, aka the man heavily revered for his work composing the soundtrack to the entirely unsettling film Hereditary.
For a band so established and entrenched in their career and overarching musical influences, The Long Road North entirely should be something staggering and scintillating. But it's on this epic endeavour that Cult of Luna decisively affirm why they have continued to be placed at the cult-like forefront of their peers time and time again, with their sprawling grasp of earth-shaking innovation and seismic arrangements aging like a fine and mordant wine under the northern lights. The road to the creation of The Long Road North stems back over five years ago to the sessions for the group's 2016 release Mariner, and Persson himself previously divulged that his time spent exploring isolated and rural parts in Northern Sweden significantly contributed to the end result of this brand new outing.
The Long Road North is ultimately a stirring, eloquent and opulent serving of devastation and finesse that meticulously captures an individual and universal journey of discovery and introspection. And from vocals that could scrape the seafloor clean to riffs that bewitch the soul, this is undeniably one of Cult of Luna's most ambitious and affecting releases to date. And with the staggering body of work already lying in their wake, that is entirely no small feat.
CULT OF LUNA'S NEW ALBUM THE LONG ROAD NORTH DROPS THIS FRIDAY 11 FEBRUARY VIA METAL BLADE RECORDS. FOR MORE INFO, HEAD HERE.
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BY TIANA SPETER