Cult Of Luna

(Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )
Cult of Luna (2001), 7/10
The Beyond (2003), 5/10
Salvation (2004), 6/10
Somewhere Along the Highway (2006), 7.5/10
Eternal Kingdom (2008), 5/10
Vertikal (2013), 6.5/10
Eternal Music (2014), 5/10
Mariner (2016), 6/10
A Dawn to Fear (2019), 6.5/10 The Long Road North (2022), 6/10

(Clicka qua per la versione Italiana)

Swedish septet Cult of Luna, fronted by vocalist Klas Rydberg and guitarists Johannes Persson and Erik Olofsson, played a creative form of metalcore on Cult of Luna (Rage Of Achilles, 2001). One can see a progression from the chaotic sludge-fest of The Revelation Embodied and from the pummeling panzer-heavy machine-gun frenzy of the ten-minute Hollow, which eventually loses whatever rational thread it was following and turns into manic bacchanal to the 14-minute Sleep, that after an aborted explosion indulges in a cello-tinged serenade-like pause and is sabotaged by the delirious semi-guttural vocalist, and then, agonizing, comes to a stop, and restarts as a hypnotic heavy-metal raga that turns into orgasmic hammering before imploding into a simple cello lament. This is what classical music calls a fantasia, except that it has nothing of the romantic element. This is pure emotional energy condensed in brainy music. The progression continues with increasingly eccentric arrangements. The nine-minute Beyond Fate opens with a pulsing synth bass line before erecting the usual droning wall of noise, but also lets a Jew's harp sneak in, and closes with tip-toeing piano notes. The eloquence of the nine-minute The Sacrifice lies not in the singing (that disappears after three minutes) but in the atmosphere of impending catastrophe created by the repetitive melodic riff of the guitars and by the backbeats and tribal beats of the drums. It ends with a gentle acoustic solo.

Their sound began to evolved thanks to the addition of Anders Teglund's naive electronic arrangements on The Beyond (Earache, 2003). The eight-minute Receiver sculpts a hypnotic atmophere and the nine-minute Arrival packs a good dose of violence; but the eleven-minute Genesis and the nine-minute Deliverance are simply tedious, and the eight-minute Circle flirts with catatonic doom-metal before the predictable explosion. The Watchtower is a desperate threnody for growling vocals and the eleven-minute Further has a surreal instrumental break; but it is way too little to justify a 75-minute album.

The sprawling Salvation (Earache, 2004) was certainly better designed. The twelve-minute Echoes opens in a meditative tone before launching into a Middle-eastern gallop. There is little of the first album's epileptic energy: this is all about mood and psychology. The initially impetus of the ten-minute Vague Illusions is illusory: the real character of the piece lies in the numerous breaks (including a very slow piano solo) that not only slow down the pace but also fragment the narrative to the point that the music sounds more like a theatrical performance, replete with an emotional crescendo the ends in a whisper. The eight-minute Crossing Over is, in fact, mostly just a whisper: delicate counterpoint flows in a free-form manner and towards the end a shoegazing guitar accompanies a refrain sung by clean vocals. The eleven-minute Waiting For You begins with a long indolent jazzy overture before the guitar takes off in a pummeling galactic flight: it achieves perhaps the best balance of the two extremes. Alternating the two with clockwork precision, instead, does not help rescue the mediocrity of the eleven-minute Into The Beyond. There seems to be also a stronger sense of melody at play, for example in the seven-minute Adrift, with first the vocals and then the guitar intoning a hymn-like invocation.

The synthesizer-tinged spleen of their fourth album Somewhere Along the Highway (2006) constituted the second zenith of their career. The slow-motion shoegazing lullaby Marching To The Heartbeats sets the tone for something more intense and personal than the previous two albums. The eleven-minute Finland is a thundering and screaming martial ceremony intersected by a cryptic instrumental. The band now prefers a cascade of guitar tones to a tornado of riffs. This sophisticated and yet tense approach to music making turns Back To Chapel Town into a sphinx, that on one hand exudes a pastoral feeling and on the other take a classic hard-rock riff to its extreme gothic consequences. The narcotic ballad And With Her Came The Birds even blends into the sparse soundscape a country-ish mandolin and funereal Morricone-esque guitar beats. The ten-minute Thirtyfour alternates between a (slower) stately mood and a (faster) desperate mood, and does so in a smooth and cohesive manner, despite the instruments are often free to deviate in different directions (long guitar drones, syncopated drumbeats, soulful humming) when they are not supporting in unison the main refrain. The twelve-minute Dim is, instead, a linear progression from timid strumming to a symphonic blend of pointillistic fingerpicking and dense droning, increasingly cosmic and majestic, and, after a brief pause to catch its breath, to a monster heavy riff with werewolf-grade vocals. One can see the compositional mastery in the fact that the 16-minute Dark City Dead Man covers a broad range of styles without any sense of discontinuity. It begins with languid-psychedelic bluesy guitar licks reminiscent of latter-day Pink Floyd, then escalating to psychotic mayhem when the screams kick in, then falling into gentle laid-back hypnosis when the vocals pause, then rising to a solemn raga-like hymn that the desperate vocals enhance instead of destroying.

Eternal Kingdom (2008), a humbler work, mostly consisting of shorter pieces, is a concept album about the (imaginary) diary of a madman and murderer. The vocalist tries a bit too hard to deliver the torment of the writer. The music doesn't quite coalesce around the narrative. The nine-minute Following Betulas is certainly emphatic, but not quite gripping. The 12-minute Ghost Trail is the tour de force of the album, with the best part being the carillon-like instrumental break at the nine-minute mark that is in reality the prelude to the final massive riffing and banging But the previous nine minutes, like most of the album, were simply self-indulgent and confused.

The story of this concept album became the source for the book and dvd "Eviga Riket" (2010). The soundtrack became an individual mini-album, Eternal Music (2014).

Vertikal (2013), which better integrates the electronic sounds, is another concept album, this time loosely based on Fritz Lang's expressionist masterpiece "Metropolis" (1927). The visceral nine-minute The Weapon masterfully transitions from a burst of classic hard-rock to a disorienting instrumental second half. The 19-minute Vicarious Redemption opens with the kind of menacing electronic rumble that one would expect from a sci-fi soundtrack. After seven minutes the band begins churning out its post-metal routine, but after a few minutes the drums and the synth sneak in a dubstep beat that becomes the engine for the reprise only to be lost in the agonizing and sentimental ending. The more explicitly cinematic panels, such as Synchronicity and the mournful static ambient closer Passing Through, apply the mood-building skills of the band to the theme of the concept with mixed results. The nine-minute Mute Departure is much better at evoking the terror of the futuristic society in its first five minutes of calm but methodic accumulation of sinister sounds leading to a brief burst of anthemic distortion and screaming (unfortunately the final minutes are merely fluff). A rowdy riff fuels the most anguished and consistently aggressive piece, the ten-minute In Awe Of. The album offers a broad mix of manners, well summarizing the band's career, but lacks the elaborate sophistication of Somewhere Along the Highway.

The EP Vertikal II (2013) added three more pieces, notably Shun the Mask and Light Chaser.

Eternal Music (2014) is a soundtrack composed for their book "Eviga Riket", a rather aimless work.

Mariner (2016) was a collaboration with New York vocalist Julie Christmas, and she mostly steals the show. The compositions are grandiloquent but feel unfinished, unable to deliver the final punch and therefore remain somewhat cold and callous. The standout is the desperate and stormy, but also somewhat melodic, nine-minute long The Wreck Of S.S Needle.

The sprawling, 80-minute A Dawn to Fear (2019) mostly feels like a lecture on how to craft elegant and mildly melodic prog-metal. In fact, the growling vocals sound out of context in pieces like The Silent Man (10:36) that would otherwise be smooth graceful prog-rock suites. The rage and fear are more justified in the tense and abrasive The Fall (13:13). If A Dawn to Fear (8:53) sound like trivial implementations of the dogma of doom-metal, Lights on the Hill (15:07) is an immaculate demonstration of how to stage the rise and fall of grandiose epos.

The Long Road North (2022) is another demonstration of both truculence (the grandiloquent cinematic horror of the ten-minute Cold Burn) and elegance (the smooth transition from the anthemic keyboards to the pastoral guitars in The Silver Arc), of both crushing force (the stormy and funereal 13-minute melodrama An Offering to the Wild) and delicate impressionism (the flowery ballad Into the Night). The intricate and occasionally explosive prog-metal dynamics of the ten-minute The Long Road North and of the eleven-minute Blood Upon Stone is sometimes self-indulgent, resulting in overlong songs of blurred identities. This album boasts perhaps more routine than creativity.

(Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )
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