Artist: Cult Of Luna
Album Title: The Long Road North
Label: Metal Blade Records
Date of Release: 11 February 2022
I have always struggled with Cult Of Luna. I want to like them and have always wanted to like them. However, as good as their music has always been, I have never fully warmed to them. When others wax lyrical about how awesome they are, I never quite get it; yes, I appreciate the sounds that they create, but I’ve never fallen in love with their end product. Post metal, post hardcore, call it what you want, it isn’t just a Cult of Luna thing, it’s an area of heavy music that has always kind of passed me by and I’ve struggled to appreciate. Mind you, even I know that the music Cult Of Luna create is pretty original, as they have worked hard over their career to forge a path unlike anyone else.
Ever the optimist, I thought that 2022 might be the time to try again. And so here I am, faced with the Swede’s eighth full-length release, entitled ‘The Long Road North’.
The first thing to say is that when the title refers to ‘The Long Road North’, they weren’t kidding. This album is a beast in anyone’s eyes, clocking in at somewhere approaching 70 minutes. To be consistent, I will say the same thing that I always say: this is too long. Even for a band renowned for longer, more drawn-out, slow-burn tracks, ‘The Long Road North’ is at least one epic song too many. At least as far as I’m concerned anyway; I’m sure many will disagree vehemently. However, for me, when the music is as intense as it is here, it takes a fair bit of stamina and resolve to digest this monster in one sitting. And I have a fairly decent attention span.
Other than that, there isn’t a great deal else that I have cause to be negative about, aside from the sound of a saxophone within a couple of the tracks. I think it is fair to say that this kind of music will never ever sit at the top of my list, and I’ll never be a fanboy that’s for sure. But it is very hard to argue against this record because this is easily the best that Cult Of Luna have ever sounded to me. Ok, so I’ve not sat for a thousand hours listening to them, but when I have, I can’t ever remember being quite so enamoured. And, if there was ever an album to change my ‘fanboy’ comment directly above, I can’t think of a better one than this. Put it this way, if there’s a better post-metal, post-hardcore album than ‘The Long Road North’, I need to hear it.
What I’m liking about this record in particular is the way that there seems to be a lot more emphasis on more quiet, almost ambient sections within the various compositions, with some songs actually being entirely of that ilk. Cult Of Luna have always operated within a slow-burn, gradual build-up modus operandi, but it just feels like this element has been enhanced. And I think that’s one of the reasons why I like this album more than others.
Take the song, ‘Beyond I’ as a great example. The keys of Kristian Karlsson lay the foundations upon which the notable guest vocalist Mariam Wallentin (Wildbirds And Peacedrums) lends her considerable skills. It’s massively different to the opening duo of tracks, but no less entertaining, showing another side to Cult Of Luna that I really like.
Indeed, ‘Beyond II’, the companion piece, is another good example. It is stylistically quite different, but is fundamentally a dark ambient workout where the traditional metallic instruments take a back seat to allow a wholly different set of textures to emerge. Dystopian, post-apocalyptic, electronic soundscapes create an intriguing but also disconcerting closure to the album, a closure that brings with it a sense of calm to counteract the more punishing moments elsewhere along this journey.
On that note, there’s no better place to start than with the nine-minute opener ‘Cold Burn’, demonstrating that Cult Of Luna are not mucking around here. The intro will provide familiarity to long-term fans and I particularly like the immediately dark and abrasive nature of the music, as well as an undeniable cinematic quality. The drumming from Thomas Hedlund is highly impressive and expressive, carrying with it a definite progressive edge, whilst the guitars of Johannes Persson and Fredrik Kihlberg are highly distorted, creating a nasty sound when working in tandem with Andreas Johansson’s rumbling, dirty bass. The song pulsates whilst Persson screams venomously before a shift in intensity sees more of a mid-tempo stomp emerge. And then in comes a greater melodic edge, first led by mournful lead guitar tones, and then built upon from all corners of the band to create something rather visceral but beautiful at the same time. By the close, I’m already exhausted, but I’m equally excited, as I’m liking what I hear, and I’m eager to explore further.
If anything, ‘The Silver Arc’ ratchets up my excitement even more because it demonstrates that the opener was no flash in the pan; ‘The Long Road North’, so named in reference to Johannes Persson’s mental journey he took a few years ago, is clearly intent on bringing even more melody into their sound amongst other notable and familiar elements. As such, it’s a rather captivating composition, full of dynamic twists and turns.
‘An Offering To The Wild’ is a really memorable song, despite the inclusion of a saxophone. At well over twelve minutes in length, it can afford the time to build up in classic Cult Of Luna style. As such, the first handful of minutes are quiet but brooding, with a darkness lurking around every turn. The sense that something more violent is on the horizon is palpable, and when the song finally erupts, the results are spectacular. However, for me, it’s the instantly memorable lead guitar melody that emerges around the five-minute mark that takes the song from being very good to exceptional.
In an effort to inject another layer of variety, we’re treated to ‘Into The Night’. With three members of the band credited with vocal contributions, I’m unable to identify the protagonist with certainty. However, the soft, breathy, and intense clean vocals really create an impression on me, especially when coupled with a backdrop that’s very dark, fairly minimal, but incredibly beautiful and poignant. This unexpected piece is a surprise, but a very welcome one, one that has become an album highlight for me.
From there, we head back to pastures more familiar via the slow-burning, rhythmic, and almost hypnotic title track before ‘Blood Upon Stone’ leaves me in no doubt that I do like this album very much indeed. It is simply glorious, a full-throttle exercise in communicating to the world just why Cult Of Luna are so adored by many. What makes it my favourite track on the album is the way in which it conveys such anger and frustration, whilst also sounding strangely poignant and beautiful. Aided by Phoenix guitarists Christian Mazzalai and Laurent Brancowitz along the way, huge walls of violent sound assault the listener one moment, with periods of pronounced minimalist calm injecting a sense of drama within. The ebb and flow of this song is wonderful, as it the subtle increase in melody when the song begins to emerge from the most substantial period of darkness at the centre of the composition. The ensuing lead guitar notes are stunning, as is the controlled tumult that accompanies them, creating a rousing, almost euphoric listening experience late on in the record.
For the first time, I find myself absolutely enthralled by a Cult Of Luna album. Mind you, if you’re a heavy music fan and you don’t find something on ‘The Long Road North’ to enjoy, you might want to check your pulse. The blend of heaviness, aggression, minimalist exploration, and genuinely memorable melody makes this album a sure-fire winner. I said earlier in the review that I believe the record could stand to be a little shorter but, on reflection, it is really difficult to tell where the band could have undertaken some editing. There isn’t really any moment wasted and, whilst a handful of songs extend near to and beyond ten minutes in length, they deserve their extended existence without question. In short, I really like ‘The Long Road North’ and although it may be early in the year still, there is a genuine possibility that it could find a slot in my end-of-year ‘best of’ list. A post-metal album from Cult Of Luna in my top 30? Who’d have thought it eh?
The Score of Much Metal: 93%
Check out my other 2022 reviews here:
You can also check out my other reviews from previous years right here: