PICK OF THE WEEK: Cult of Luna’s emotional growth burst packs power on ‘The Long Road North’

Photo by Sylvia Grav

One’s presence here on Earth should not be a sedentary one, simply taking up space and absorbing oxygen and fuels just so we live to the next day. Sure, we’re all busy and have different responsibilities than we had even a couple years ago with how much our world has changed, but staying in the same place and just walking life like a treadmill at one speed is no way to exist.

Long-standing Swedish metal institution Cult of Luna is the perfect model of that thinking as they’ve demonstrated their flexibility and refusal to settle over the past almost quarter century. That goes even further than ever on “The Long Road North,” their eighth and first full-length since 2019’s amazing “A Dawn to Fear.” The band—vocalist/guitarist Johannes Persson, guitarist/vocalist Fredrik Kihlberg, guitarist/production master Magnus Lindberg, bassist Andreas Johansson, keyboardist/vocalist Kristian Karlsson, drummer/percussionist Thomas Hedlund—used the chaos that steamed from “Dawn” and their 2021 EP “The Raging River” and turned inward to measure personal growth and progress. It’s a mental adventure to become the humans the band strives to be, and it can work as a great tool to apply to our own lives, making sure we avoid complacency and we continue to grow.

“Cold Burn” begins plotting with chilled synth and a ramming pace, the gut-wrenching shrieks feeling particularly jarring. The track is icy and dark, trudging through the woods and collecting atmosphere, and then the keys thicken and travel, delivering an emotional heaviness you can taste. The roars land hard again, and a hazy gust comes to rest amid doomy warnings. “The Silver Arc” is dreary as it hangs overhead, the roars crunching and directing toward cataclysmic power. There’s a gothy feel that comes within the mist that’s gathering, and there’s a sense of calm that lands, laced with just enough unease. Things hiss before we head for an explosion, the vocals wrench forcefully, and the leads grow more immersive, the final moments pounding out your guts. “Beyond I” bathes in a synth cloud as Mariam Wallentin (of Wildbirds and Peacedrums) wails, “Someone’s calling out my name,” as the track bows to the chilling night. “An Offering to the Wild” is the longest track as 12:45, and it lets time for the atmosphere to build and mature, as the track unfurls its wings. At just before the five-minute mark, the roars land, and things come apart, compelling and scorching as the tension builds, while the earth rumbles below. The vocals sink teeth into flesh as fires flare, and a strange vibe settles into the waters, making everything feel uneasy. The flow comes alive again, overwhelming with power, and then everything fades.

“Into the Night” drips in feeling psychedelic, with a Floydian ambiance and force, the singing moving clean through the fuzz. The tempo works gently but forcefully, as Persson dreamily sings, “I hear you calling to me,” sending chills down your spine. The whole things blows up finally as the intensity blasts, with everything dissolving into eerie zaps. “Full Moon” is a strange, apocalyptic instrumental built with ominous stomps and chilling keys, moving toward the title track that starts with a dusty western sensation, almost as if you’re expecting cacti and coyotes calling. The vocals wrench as a spacey vibe darts through, moody backing increasing the darkness. Things keep pushing as the atmosphere thickens, keys ring out like signals (that element reminds me of “Finland” from “Somewhere Along the Highway”) before the vocals rush and punish. The playing drives harder as your heart rates increases, crushing and merging with the increasing noise hum. “Blood Upon Stone” combines thick keys and jolting riffs, the vocals peeling back flesh, the rocks pelting your prone body. Cosmic melodies snake into your oxygen as dark waves lap the shore, and a reflective stretch leaves you blissfully prone. Things heat up again as the vocals gut, a burst of sound flattens earth, and the final moments soar far into the deep night.  “Beyond II” closes the record letting synth sheets float and woosh, the drums crumble, and weird sounds and moans intoxicate you, preparing you rest under a canopy of stars.

Cult of Luna never fail to capture the imagination, and “The Long Road North” is another high point in a career full of them. Their soul journey they’re on with this record is impossible to shake, and who would want to when you’re surrounded by quaking, strikingly emotional music that gives as much to your heart as your mind? This is an all-time great band still operating on a frighteningly high level on their eighth record, and every journey with these nine tracks is an experience that will change you forever for the better.   

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/cultoflunamusic

To buy the album, go here: https://www.indiemerch.com/metalbladerecords

For more on the label, go here: https://www.metalblade.com/us/

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