Cult of Luna’s ambition hits back with enormous highs, crushing emotion on huge ‘A Dawn to Fear’

I’m not sure that this is the age of the epic. Media gets consumed and spit out so quickly that it’s hard to make an impact with a longer piece, unless we’re talking a movie, where you’re forced to sit there for as long as it takes. Musically, things are broken into little bits, and while there remain stars, there hardly is the lasting impact for artists that there used to be.

Swedish crushers Cult of Luna have been doing things for more than two decades now, and in an age of here today, gone later today, these guys have heavily thwarted the notion that they need to make things digestible. Their new record “A Dawn to Fear” is an absolute mammoth at eight tracks and 79 minutes. If you don’t have the patience and willingness to immerse yourself in something that demands that long, you’re going to miss one of the most fascinating and crushing records of the year, one that belongs next to Cult of Luna’s finest moments. The band—vocalist/guitarist Johannes Persson, guitarist/vocalist Fredrik Kihlberg, keyboardist/vocalist Kristian Karlsson, bassist Andreas Johansson, drummer/percussionist Thomas Hedlund, drummer/studio engineer Magnus Lindberg—didn’t set out to create a straight narrative and instead let things be looser when creating what you hear, and the result is fiery, fluid, and kinetic, an album that doesn’t feel as long as it is. That approach worked perfectly, and this album unravels itself and reveals more secrets with every listen.

“The Silent Man” opens the record with noise swelling before the music begins pounding, and Persson’s growls start to settle in. The keys leave a strange film as the journey whirs along, unloading chaos before things get equally mesmerizing and crunchy. Slide guitars give off a haunting vibe as moody organs spill in, the track gets a spacey texture, and everything bleeds away. “Lay Your Head to Rest” is the shortest track, running 6:24, and it begins with electric pulses and muddy punishment before Persson’s growls break up the ground. The track hulks along while sounds hover, crushing wills and landing heavy punches to the end. The title track sparks and lets dreams spill through, as numb singing takes over for the roars, and the darkness floods. The slide guitars again spark a mood, letting you settle into dusk before the track gets thornier, and the growls smash the senses. Things go back to reflective as dark notes drip, and the misty sadness spreads all over the earth. “Nightwalkers” trickles as the bass begins to plod, sprawling and mashing with growls scarring. Strange keys wash in and makes your mind feel strange with the growls returning, the pace boiling and steaming, and the organs acting like a slow-release drug. That all is swallowed whole as the band chugs heavily, fiery playing increases the heat, and the track dissolves into mystery.

“Lights on the Hill” is the longest track here, clocking in at 15:07, and each second is well spent. The front end has a psychedelic Pink Floyd feel, with the song slowly unfurling, bleeding and crawling into an extended instrumental section. The vocals finally rip in about six and a half minutes into the song, and from there the monstrous theatrics continue to pile on. The assault is calculated much of the time while the synth blazes, and fiery cries leave bruising before the final stretch fades into serenity that’s dragged off into the distance. “We Feel the End” is hazy and intoxicating with softer singing and a post-rock-style feel, not unlike Crippled Black Phoenix’s delicate moments.  The track remains pulled back, as rainy clouds thicken, the atmosphere is filled with gray, and the music ends in a somber shadow. “Inland Rain” has energy poking through, barked vocals, and a slurry ambiance that feels cosmic and welcoming. The keys blend and send off mist while the growls crush, the music crescendos, and the final moments smash things to bits. “The Fall” is the closer, opening slowly and letting the first section of its 13:13 get settled. Finally, the track bursts with the growls scraping, as the wrenching pace and the hammering music batters everything. Melody slides into fog, washing through the unknown, and then the song explodes dangerously again. Savage wails and the band unloading molten rock makes the world melt, but then the guitars get colder, the emotions settle, and the track flows into the universe.

So many bands have come along and tried to tread the same waters as Cult of Luna, but none of them have captured their penchant for adventure and desolate heaviness the way they can. “A Dawn to Fear” is another monstrous display from this band, one that fits right along their classic works but pushes them toward their future. This is another awesome display, one that uses every ounce of their imagination and energy and leaves you heaving with breath when it’s over.

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