Reviewed: April 2022
Released: 2022, Metal Blade Records
Reviewer: Lee Carter
Widely-celebrated for the pioneering, or at least peddling, of the post-metal genre, Sweden’s CULT OF LUNA are among the godfathers of the doomier, more progressive sides of metal. You certainly do not get to twenty-four years as a band without knowing your stuff, and doing it well. As it happens, these Swedes are adept at both of those and so we have their ninth album in ‘The Long Road North’ gracing our ears in 2022.
Opener “Cold Burn” raises the curtain and, in a way, could not be more appropriately-titled. It burns low, with stabbed chords ringing out atop frenetic drumming, yet it feels Arctic-cold. The haunting melodies that sit heavy in the middle ring out with emotion that is augmented with an oppressive atmosphere. Yet if one track captures that oppressiveness, yet strange beauty, it is the piano-and-synths-led “Beyond I”. Piano chords plonk whilst synthesised layers swirl and decay away beneath serene vocals; a beautiful piece that also leaves the listener a little on edge.
In fact, it is on the shorter songs that help make up ‘The Long Road North’ where CULT OF LUNA excel at distilling their more atmospheric qualities. “Into The Night” builds and builds and builds to a crescendo that just doesn’t quite arrive, while “Full Moon” – appropriately – adds a certain brightness to the otherwise more brooding proceedings across the album. Even the album’s closer, “Beyond II”, has a certain understated brightness amid the maelstrom of groaning synths and choir voices before it erupts into a cinematic-esque closer befitting a big-budget Hollywood piece.
But it wouldn’t be CULT OF LUNA without some epic-length tracks, and ‘The Long Road North’ is no exception. The cathartic “An Offering To The Wild” is another that, much like “Into The Night”, builds progressively as it wears on before finally erupting into a cacophony complete with a delightfully melodious guitar lead that sings atop the din. Yet it is the title track that perfectly encapsulates what the band were intending with the album: an aural allegory for the mental health journey that main-man Johannes Persson went through not long ago. A hard-hitting, yet delicate and beautiful musical foray, culminating in a thrilling crescendo of unrestrained emotion. It matters more when music has been written from the heart, and it is what sets this apart from the rest of the album, particularly.
As the band continues to inexorably approach their thirtieth anniversary as a band, ‘The Long Road North’ is another terrific entry in their storied and celebrated discography. Heart-wrenching, a little off-kilter in places, emotive and resplendent all at once, CULT OF LUNA’s ninth album is more of the same quality that you would come to expect from a band of their experience and reverence. It has been a long road to get to here, and long may they continue their journey with music like this.