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I’m certain that I wasn’t the only one unsure of how Cult Of Luna would follow up their masterful collaboration record with American singer, Julie Christmas – 2016’s ‘Mariner.’ How could any artist release an album that stellar and set the bar so high for themselves yet continue to make great music? Cult Of Luna in a way set themselves up for future disappointment releasing ‘Mariner,’ but this is Cult Of Luna that we’re talking about! There is barely any kind of disappointment when it comes to what they do. Because little did I know that Luna still have a fair few tricks up their sleeve with ‘A Dawn to Fear‘ now entering the chat. After letting this record ruminate within me for a bit, it’s obvious that Luna are showing no signs of slowing in creating something even more magical than ‘Mariner.’ The Cult have outdone themselves by creating a mystifying release that is truly a spiritual experience; this is art, man.
The record begins with some eerie static until the warm, inviting bass leads you by the hand into this mammoth record. The main riff to ‘The Silent Man,’ is incredibly catchy, although simple and powerful, which is followed by an absolutely soothing tremolo part. The use of organ in tandem with the main riff gives it that trademarked Luna impact too. Towards the back-third, you’re left with nothing but droning guitars and bass whilst the twinkling percussion guides you through this magical forest, until the organ kicks back in to direct you to a final emotional explosion. One thing COL is revered for is the captivating atmospheres that they craft in their music. Thus, nearly every song has something unique, never easing off the gas pedal until the record reaches its fateful end. There are a couple of tracks which are a little longer than needed (‘Nightwalkers,’ ‘Inland Rain) as they’re more linear without as much tension. They’re still great pieces, but its not a stretch to say that the odd track contains a hint of filler.
Similarly, ‘A Dawn to Fear‘ has its share of linear but still massive tracks (‘The Silent Man,’ ‘Lights on the Hill,’ ‘The Fall) that nicely build tension through their length and bloom at the end. Yet the LP has its simpler and effective takes too (‘Lay Your Head to Rest,’ ‘We Feel the End.’) With that being said, there are several strategically placed songs throughout that provide you with good breathing room. Despite being nearly 80 minutes, for the most part, the album feels nowhere near as long or as exhausting as you’d think. Such is Luna’s writing abilities. There are so many tasteful parts packed in that time flies by. When you give this LP your full attention and let its mesmerizing properties take effect, you become immersed in this bewitching post-metal experience.
‘Lights on the Hill‘ is easily the strongest track of not only ‘A Dawn To Fear,’ but perhaps even their entire discography. Some big fighting words, I know! Whilst just over fifteen minutes in length, the track zooms past when you focus right in: it slowly building, adding and removing different instrumental elements along the way, to then in classic Luna fashion, bring them back together at the climax. It takes nearly six minutes until the vocals first arrive, but with so much going on, it’s easy to become invested and lost in such a grand piece as develops strong levels of tension until all is unbuckled when that awesome, reverb-soaked tremolo returns. Every listen when this climax hits, I feel like Nicolas Cage in Con-Air; wind blowing over my face and hair; at peace and free. Just when you think the track is winding down, it suddenly picks back up in an upbeat way that’ll help brighten any bad day you’re having – COL play with your emotions so much, but only in the way that they can. ‘Lights on the Hill‘ feels like more than a single song; it’s something mystical, filled with feeling and meaning its dynamic ebb and flow. I’m honestly left speechless after each listen.
There are several tracks which sees Cult trying something new, proving that they’re continuing to evolve as musicians and refusing to be stuck within a box. Although not overly utilized on previous records, the title track and ‘We Feel the End‘ features singing alongside the harsher screams, but not in a way that’s overdone or uninteresting. The usage of the cleans is done tastefully and is never forced; it fits the arrangements like a charm and somehow makes them sound bleaker if that was even possible. The monstrous screams found elsewhere on the release provide the inescapable feeling of desperation and anguish, adding to the feelings of hopelessness in what is already an incredibly grim soundscape running through the record. ‘We Feel the End‘ is the most relaxing and slowest track, given its minimalistic nature and the usage of only clean vocals. I personally compare it to the track ‘Dissociation,’ by The Dillinger Escape Plan, as it’s just so depressing yet therapeutic. The record could’ve ended right then and there, and I would’ve been more than satisfied with a softer send-off, but Cult have more in store.
Enter ‘The Fall.’ Following a similar linear path to Lights on the Hill,’ but getting to the punchline quicker, you get a little bit of everything in this one track: dreamy tremolos, wall-of-sound riffs, gloomy and melodic bridges, and bone-chilling synths that sweep across perfectly-timed riff pauses. Just when you think it’s over, shit storms right back into gear and powers onward: a structural set-up that the Swedish band just loves to do on this record, but one that is always effective.
What ‘A Dawn To Fear‘ reveals is that Cult Of Luna has never been the type of musicians to boast their technicality and musicianship. Luna are instead the types of musicians that are reserved in how they write and execute different compositions, and I find that musical reservation much more sophisticated over its counterpart. As while most of the songwriting here isn’t all that complex and is linear at face value, its those deeper intricacies beneath the surface that are what make it so special.
Just when I thought it couldn’t be done, Cult Of Luna have knocked it out of the park with ‘A Dawn to Fear.’ This record absolutely floors me every time, something I don’t see changing anytime soon. The more I listened and the more I picked out the many nuances and minute sonic details, the more I became enveloped in Cult Of Luna’s newest epic. ‘A Dawn to Fear’ is one a slow-burning record that becomes incredibly hypnotic over time; something I find peace and relaxation in despite the solemn post-metal style. It’s somewhat of an out of body experience, and it’s also the veteran group at their very best, standing strong alongside previous gems like the aforementioned ‘Mariner, ‘Somewhere Along the Highway’ (2006), ‘Vertikal’ (2013), and ‘Salvation’ (2004.) Often times, you find that most bands have a one-off misstep or some kind of loss of momentum somewhere in their discography, but Luna is most certainly not most bands. They’re currently placed right atop the atmospheric post-metal food chain and every record of theirs is damn-near essential; A Dawn to Fear is no different.
The Silent Man
Lay Your Head to Rest
A Dawn to Fear
Lights on the Hill
We Feel the End
‘A Dawn To Fear’ is out now: