Cult of Luna pack hammering EP ‘The Raging River’ with enough quaking power for a full album

It feels like it’s been years and years since I was at a live show, when in reality it was only 10 months ago. That still feels like a lifetime based on how many shows I go to per year, and it seems like a part of my life that was so far off, I can’t even remember what that part of reality was like. Luckily for me, the last show I saw before everything shut down was a great one.

Feb. 29, Leap Day no less, it was at Baltimore Soundstage with headliner Cult of Luna, Swedish masters of atmospheric hypnosis who delivered the Apocalyptic performance I expected, not realizing what hell was ahead. Emma Ruth Rundle and Intronaut rounded out the bill, so yeah, couldn’t ask for a better last show. Here we are, less than a year later, and Cult of Luna already have new music for us in the form of “The Raging River” EP, their first for Red Creek Recordings, their own imprint, though Metal Blade (U.S.) and Season of Mist (Europe) will handle distribution. Funny enough, even an EP for Cult of Luna is mightier and more massive than most as these five tracks clock in at about 39 minutes, so it’s not like this is going to feel like an appetizer. 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—digs in deep, giving you an immersive, punishing performance that also has one hell of great guest spot.

“Three Bridges” trickles open as the band sets up a weird vibe that feels like strange waves rolling toward you. Then guts are ripped out as Persson’s roars burst, the synth fog gets heavier and thicker, and things chug hard, bruising before the vibe get more atmospheric. The playing keeps flexing its muscles, allowing some shimmery strangeness into the scene before the rage explodes anew. The melody bleeds from there, the band pounds away, and the track ends in a hulking pile. “What I Leave Behind” burns open as a thick bassline slithers through, the vocals bludgeon, and a penetrating synth storm settles overhead. The track heads into murk as the storming gets heavier, cosmic beams head toward the earth, and a final assault rips into your midsection, leaving you convulsing.

“Inside of a Dream” is a sort of bridge track between the first and second half of the EP, and it features Mark Lanegan, easily one of the planet’s greatest singers, taking lead. The playing is reflective and chilling, setting up an elegant gaze for Lanegan to use as a background as he works his way through mystery, stuck in a dream. “I Remember” brings a strong deluge and vocals that register seismically, with the music feeling like waves lapping over you. The music moves like a ghoul, chilling your blood as punchy, dark playing eats away at vulnerable psyches. The momentum builds as the tension begins to boil, the fires are aggravated, and the track bleeds into time. “Wave After Wave” is the 12:22 closer, spilling in and swimming through, with the synth feeling like it’s adding a red haze to the music. The beat pulsates in your chest as Persson’s roars hammer away, and strange guitars make it feel like eternal dusk. The scene is mesmerizing as the keys drip, the emotion builds, and the vocals pile on. Finally, the track begins to slow, the fog gets thicker and impenetrable, and the spirit bleeds out into the ground.

Cult of Luna are one of those rare bands where even their EPs can be considered a full-length based on girth, and we are not complaining one bit about that because “The Raging River” is a beast of an effort here to keep us satiated until the next album. The music is intense, immersive, emotional, and utterly heavy, a testament to the band’s steady output and volcanic musical personality. It was an honor to have them be the last band I saw before the virus exploded, and this EP will keep me dreaming until the next time I can be slain in their presence.  

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