A year and a week after dropping the interim teaser EP The Raging River, post-metal titans Cult Of Luna return with their eighth full-length effort, The Long Road North. Expectations are suitably high; every Cult of Luna release over the past decade and beyond has been a classic. Can they continue with that momentum?
If the intro to “Cold Burn” is any indication, yes. Opening with a War of the Worlds-ish ominous blast followed by a relentless drum beat, within thirty seconds we are already thinking “epic.” With Johannes Persson’s anguished vocals searing through the noise, a minute in Cult Of Luna are back in full swing. This near-ten-minute opening track covers a wide breadth of Cult Of Luna’s repertoire: huge opening, grand verses, momentary groove, and climactic finale.
Other songs in the epic, slow-burn mold include “An Offering to the Wild” and “Blood Upon Stone,” each of which tweaks the arrangement slightly from “Cold Burn.” The former fades in from “Beyond I” (an excellent if brief foray into atmospheric menace featuring Mariam Wallentin on vocals) in a wash of keyboards and slowly seethes for five minutes until vocals come in. From the midpoint on the song continues to grow in strength like a hurricane before crashing down at the end, completely spent.
“Blood Upon Stone” also opens fantastically, with a quietly howling keyboard backing a ponderous guitar line before vocals lurch in. Around the four minute mark a subdued, magnetic riff grabs our attention as things quiet down. Masters of the slow build, Cult Of Luna take three minutes to build tension before things get furious again.
Epic-length tracks of intense sludgy post-metal may be the bulk of The Long Road North’s compositions, but there are plenty of forays down shorter roads. “Into the Night” is an ephemeral seven minutes, awash with atmospherics in an almost Radiohead-like way at times, and album closer “Beyond II” is an instrumental reprise to its companion piece.
The granite-like density of these songs are mirrored in the production, which only rarely gives the instruments room to breathe. Quiet moments such as the two “Beyond” tracks and “Full Moon” create the impression of both intimate claustrophobia and vast expanse, while the full-on ragers are deafening walls of sound. It all adds to the album’s mood and fury, illustrated no more sharply than at the end of the title track.
The nine songs on The Long Road North clock in at a not-svelte seventy minutes, with four songs near or over the ten-minute mark, and is a dense listen that commands attention. Could it be trimmed down a bit? Sure, but that’s not Cult Of Luna’s style, and we’re better off for it. Massive in sound, epic in scope, awash in both light and dark moments, The Long Road North is a superb album.
(released February 11, 2022 on Metal Blade Records)
Heavy Music HQ Rating
Watch Cult Of Luna – “Cold Burn” Video