Monday, 2 September 2019

ALBUM REVIEW: Cult of Luna, "A Dawn to Fear"

By Eeli Helin

Album Type: Full-length
Date Released: 20/09/19
Label: Metal Blade Records

”A Dawn to Fear” CD//DD//2LP track listing:

1. The Silent Man
2. Lay Your Head to Rest
3. A Dawn to Fear
4. Nightwalker
5. Lights on the Hill
6. We Feel the End
7. Inland Rain
8. The Fall

The Review:

Cult of Luna are a band that has always existed in this sort of a limbo state, at least from my view. Being honest to themselves and their fans about the realities of making music, impossibilities of traveling abroad and doing long tours because of their families and so on, the band has reached a state where they dictate their doings and schedules, and the fans accept that. However, the wait is always agony, and that feeling is greatly fueled by the presence of unpredictability. You never know of or when something happens, you also never know what to expect. As a band whose output has changed throughout the years, each of their albums have their own signature sound. I've repeatedly wondered how deep is the well from where they draw influence and material, and as it turns out, that well is a damn deep and wide one.

A Dawn to Fearis Cult of Luna's 8th album (when including their collaboration album with Julie Christmas and excluding the audiobook Eviga Riket”) and their first on Metal Blade Records, being released on September 9th. Prior to the announcement, they released the album's first track "The Silent Man" in early May, thrusting forth humongous waves of anticipation and expectations for the release. As the album consists of eight immense tracks adding up to 80 minutes of material, there's a lot to cover so I'll keep this introduction short. You all have heard about the band and should know their material in and out by now.

Starting the album up with a bang, after a feedbacky intro "The Silent Man" proceeds in a surprisingly vivid pace. The driving drum beat picks up the other instruments, and it is instantly clear you're listening to Cult of Luna. Reaching its culmination points in the three minute mark and toning down for a moment just to explode to your face again, the track induces feelings of melancholy not many can pull off. Adding a new level to that, the song falls into a quieter, more ambient washed passage before the shiver inflicting crescendo. "The Silent Man" is already a very familiar track to each of their fans, but that doesn't lessen the impact those final moments have every time you listen to the song. Even if the track has those guaranteed, distinctive characteristics of a Cult of Luna song, when viewed in the full album context, it's the most basic and regular one. When listening through it and getting back to the beginning, it feels weird that this one was picked to open the album, let alone be the first single released from it.

"Lay Your Head to Rest" opens with a few metallic drone swells before heading to a floaty passage led by octave chords. Despite the proggy approach and keeping the tension, the track is very structured. Being of the shorter length, the track feels atypical for the band which proves to be refreshing. At this point the listener also starts to notice the prevalent atmosphere and the production direction. I can't think of any bands uniting organic instrumentation with metallic (read: actually metallic, almost industrial-like) synths, ambients and drones in such an eloquent manner. Picking some reference points from their past, ”A Dawn to Fear” sounds like a mix between Somewhere Along the Highway” and Vertikal”. By that I don't mean it'd be a repetition of either, but the aesthetic aches to those directions. "Lay Your Head to Rest" is also simplistic in a similar sense as the first track, but is contagious, as you notice the main riff will get stuck in your head for quite a long while afterwards.

The sheer brilliance of this album however, lies ahead. The titular track opens a new chapter in the bands books, unleashing something the first two tracks held back. The titular track starts with a soft, almost jazzy southern rock part that goes on for a good while before introducing layered clean vocals. That moment is beautiful, and the most intimate one on the album. Progressing to a passage with only an organ and deep vocals with some passing high swells, it is with this song that the band touches a ground they haven't before. Getting back to its feet for a controlled refrain before exploding into a sludgy, doomy verse that unites the said southern feels with distorted guitars, that carries the listener to one of the greatest moments in Cult of Luna's history, the multi-layered outro that compresses all these different aspects into one. It takes a while to digest everything that's happening, but it doesn't matter.

Clearly picking up the pace, "Nightwalker" creates a haunting and eerie mood straight from the beginning, a mood that goes on through the few following tracks as well. Constantly getting flesh around its bones, the track explodes to a powerful passage topped with Johannes' vocals, who by the way sounds angrier and more pissed off than ever before. Staying true to their own sound, it's brilliant how they manage to introduce new and fresh facets yet sound exactly like themselves at all times. Even though sticking to the same pattern for a long, long while, it doesn't get numbing or dull at any point. It's that one particular second where everything capsizes  onto its head. You never realize it's coming nor can you expect it, but when the change arrives, it'll result in some chills and patent satisfaction. Going into a shuffle beat and synth lead, "Nightwalker" takes steps towards actual prog, which is definitely not unprecedented, but it's invigorating. You'll nod and sway along until the track returns to the main riff, wielding steadily to a slowly evaporating guitar outro.

Before you even grasp what just happened, "Lights on the Hill" seeps in daunting and frightening way, that makes you surveil and watch your surroundings, as if someone, or rather something, would be on your heels. The song evolves into a sad-toned passage, laying pressure on top of the listener until a tom beat carried crescendo, which turns out to be the single heaviest part on the album as a whole. Quicker rhythms burst out in a blink, leading to a funeral aesthetic outro as if it would prepare you for what's coming next. "We Feel the End" is a ballad like middle piece, calling in mind "Approaching Transition" from their previous album, minus the heavy as balls doom beating. This track relies entirely on emotion, throws in what sounds like a child choir and a vibraphone part. Someone could describe the clean vocals as frail or even weak if put harshly, but the fragile tone simply works time and time again, and there's zero need for anything polished or technically mind blowing in that sense.

"Inland Rain" opens the last twenty minutes of the album with a feeling of cold grief, and a more striding flow, tambourines and all. In this track, one of Cult of Luna's greatest strong suits take the spotlight and continuously catch your attention, and that's the drum work. Having always been extremely strong on that department, the drums shine the brightest instead of being "just" the spine of everything. You'll pick up a ton of nuances and details along the way, and it takes few listens to even be able to focus on anything else. The track overall is a shapeless mass with a weight comparable to a neutron star. The grand piece of the album is the final track "The Fall". It's easiest to describe it as the perfect blend of everything the band has ever done, their whole career compressed to one track. You'll hear nuances from each of their earlier releases, and can draw straight lines to each in the right time. That is pretty much all I can say at this point, you simply have to hear it to believe it and to know what I'm talking about. After this track when the silence hits, after possibly the best individual song they've ever composed, I feel really empty. And you will too.

”A Dawn to Fear” is a humongous oeuvre that takes time to fully digest and to comprehend. It will match and probably surpass any and all expectations you might have for it. Despite the momentarily sluggish start, the first two tracks also blend better into the big picture when you replay the album. It's a lot to take in, but if you survived my ramblings this far, you will survive it too. After all, the flow is impeccable throughout. It doesn't matter if you're familiar with the band or not, it'll snatch your attention before you even know it, and keep you entertained through the entire eighty minutes. Not to prolong this any further, I'm confident to say that ”A Dawn to Fear” is Cult of Luna's best album so far, over twenty years into their career. And that is, pardon my French, a fucking beautiful thing.

”A Dawn to Fear” is available HERE

Band info: bandcamp || facebook