11 Feb 2022 - Jonas
Post-Metal | Metal Blade Records | Release date: 11 Feb 2022
Cult of Luna from Sweden are the current torchbearers of modern post-metal and they have been a band for nearly 25 years now. They have not, however, shown any signs of slowing down, save for that mostly introspective period between the albums Eternal Kingdom (2008) and Vertikal (2013), where they went through some lineup changes. During the nine years since then, they have released a split EP with The Old Wind, a universally lauded collaborative album with Julie Christmas, a few live albums, a studio album, and an EP. It has only been a year since their last release and now it is, once again, time to prepare yourself for a gruesome journey, on “The Long Road North”, their ninth studio album!
With a monstrous foghorn-like bellow, the album announces its arrival through the thick mist in the shape and form of the opening track, “Cold Burn”. What follows feels like when you watch these massive crossover events in superhero films, where you wait for each character to make their appearance. I almost felt like clapping the first time I heard this track when the drums come on, and they sound exactly like they should, followed by the guitars and bass, synthesizers, and, of course, the vocals. Everything is in its right place, and the momentum follows through into the second track, “The Silver Arc”.
The third track, however, is different, yet familiar. While not exactly an intermission, “Beyond I” definitely allows for the listener to catch their breath and features the Swedish singer/composer Mariam Wallentin, whose voice you might have heard in the intro theme of Ridley Scott’s sci-fi show on HBO called “Raised By Wolves” (2020). It reminds me of some of The Knife’s less rhythmic tracks, and Mariam’s deep, mature and captivating voice makes for a perfect pairing. It sounds cold, bleak, and melancholic, which is further reinforced by the lyrical themes.
Parts of the next track, “An Offering To The Wild”, sounds like a continuation, or perhaps a convergence of/with the second to last track of The Raging River, called “I Remember. There’s something about that guitar tone and the way it is being played just before the vocals kick in that somehow connects the two tracks for me, albeit for a brief moment. The kicker in this track, however, is the use of a saxophone, which is funny because, in a recent interview with Johannes Persson in Sweden Rock Magazine, he basically stated that he had an aversion to the implementation of the instrument in metal music, and yet there it is. I will admit that I generally have a pretty hard time with the instrument myself, but it works well here.
What is a Cult of Luna record if it doesn’t come with a track with Fredrik Kihlberg’s raspy and somewhat subdued singing? Unable to reach its full potential. “Into The Night” is the nearly obligatory track, except that I get the impression that Fredrik is stretching his vocal cords a bit more this time around, and I am definitely here for it. Just remember to brace yourself for the blistering ending of this track.
If this album had been a video game, the entirely instrumental track “Full Moon” would be the part where you are crossing the proverbial Rubicon – The point of no return, where you would be asked to get your affairs in order, gear up, and finish any sidequests, because this is the beginning of the end, as it transitions seamlessly into the title track, “The Long Road North”. For the next 22 minutes, including the penultimate track, “Blood Upon Stone”, we get to witness Cult of Luna at their best as they bludgeon you to the ground with sledgehammer-like riffs and a barrage of drums, as we inch our way further North. If we reach our final destination is definitely up for interpretation, as the track reaches its final climax, fizzling out into “Beyond II”. It is an epilogue of sorts that features renowned multireedist, Colin Stetson, who through an elaborate arrangement of various saxophones, flutes, and a lyricon conjures up a cosmic drone to let us ruminate on the ending.
It is through crushing motifs and incredibly evocative sprawling soundscapes that Cult of Luna, yet again, demonstrates that they are a force to be reckoned with, one where composition never takes a backseat in favor of comfort. The Long Road North feels like the dreaded but inevitable journey into the beyond that we have been avoiding all of our lives. There are no fillers on this album, with each track serving a specific purpose, all of which are executed to perfection.