Cult of Luna - A Dawn to Fear (2019)Release ID: 12897
Cult of Luna is pretty much my favorite atmospheric post-sludge band. They're complex and ambient yet straighter than other amazing bands of the genre that would follow because of this band, bands like the pioneering Neurosis with tribal elements and Isis that has taken a more rock-ish side in their last two albums. Cult of Luna always has this developing formula of heavy and quiet in their post-sludge sound. They do really well at bringing the emotion to maximum impact, and there are so many great albums within the two decades they've been around. The band has reached their peak in their third and fourth albums, yet instead of peering out like other bands, they're still incredibly strong with their eighth album A Dawn to Fear helping Cult of Luna demonstrate their songwriting with more refine elements.
At first listen, A Dawn to Fear might sound cliché with all of its famous ingredients like sludgy guitars, rumbling bass, and synth riffs together with clean sections, along with Johannes Persson’s roars to massively overlay the sound. However, the more you explore, the more the album opens up to you, the more you realize Cult of Luna move out of the cold metal feel of Vertikal and Mariner back to the warm organic tone of Somewhere Along the Highway and Eternal Kingdom. For every massive riff crushing the listener, there's a carefully layered melody to revive them. If there's something the album relies less on, it's the massive climaxes of intense apocalyptic power that you would find at the end of albums like Somewhere Along the Highway and Mariner. Instead the songs are more moody and sometimes the mood is still intense. The warm organic feel of this album and Somewhere Along the Highway helps the cold parts of the latter become more warm through images of hills and forests...
"The Silent Man" is anything but silent. That song can be considered kind of a prequel to Somewhere Along the Highway's "Dark City, Dead Man" in both the music and story. "Lay Your Head to Rest" is a sludgy doom dirge with droning synth followed by lumbering bass and pounding drumming crashing in with sonic guitar riffing. Along with Persson’s roaring, the song is so intense and maybe even as transcendent as The Infinite wants it to be. Despite that song being the shortest of the album (at 6 minutes, contrasting with the 10+ minute epics trademark to post-metal), it is probably one of my favorites of the album.
A solid intro starts the title track with a few minutes of Fredrik Kihlberg's clean singing. However, the metal part that starts halfway through the song is a little more dragging than engaging. That doesn't affect the album's perfection though, but I don't see why they chose to name the album after that song. With a mood of sinister serenity, "Nightwalkers" has an anxious feeling helped by frantic percussion and dark riffing similar to their self-titled debut, including the drop C tuning in the first half and ending.
The new tone is best expressed in "Lights on the Hill", the album's 15-minute epic crown that starts the second disc. Instead of booming into massive riffs right away, the guitars start a bit restrained for a while as moody synths and clean guitar lines settle in, the latter soon evolving into rock-ish layers while having space to breathe. They keep playing all over each other for a serene sound. Then the massive riffing begins and is spaced out throughout the song. This is a good song to listen to while sitting near the campfire in a grassy countryside on a grey sunsetting dusk. Excellent epic! The purpose of "We Feel the End" is to take a soft break after all that intricacy. Kihlberg sings over guitar and synth, still shining over mellow distortion. This serene tune might just be my favorite song with Kihlberg singing, much better than the song that ended Vertikal!
At that point, I was getting a little sleepy over that song's negative side effects that the riffs of "Inland Rain" didn't help me listen to half of it, let alone remember. This is probably because once you reach the one-hour mark right after a ballad, you don't expect the album to end there, and what do you get instead? Two songs lasting 20 minutes in total!! That seems a little much... Fortunately, restoring the album's perfection and waking me up once more is the 13-minute epic "The Fall"! It's heavier than "Lights on the Hill", yet slightly shorter and less dynamic. Nonetheless, "The Fall" is a brilliant powerful closing epic.
So things got a little critical before the grand finish, but the enthralling atmosphere and writing makes up for all those mistakes and maintains the album's perfect glory. A Dawn to Fear is another masterpiece to help Cult of Luna keep their titanic reign in the post-metal scene. The mature focus and compelling sound has made this album another one of my favorites of the band, and probably the best of 2019 (take that, DragonForce's Extreme Power Metal)!
Favorites: "Lay Your Head to Rest", "Lights on the Hill", "We Feel the End", "The Fall"
Cult of Luna is a band, that took surprisingly long to pop up on my radar. It wasn't until late september of 2019, that praises were starting to be sung about their latest release, of how A Dawn of Fear just might be the metal album of the year. The fact, that the early audience response even pushed it on top 10 lists for 2019 on music databases, that don't cover only metal, has further prompted me to give the album a shot.
My initial reaction was quite positive, however I found the 80 minute runtime to be a bit intimidating and found myself demotivated to listen to the whole thing, despite absolutely loving the first two tracks. Ultimately it was the music industry, that manipulated me to get back on that horse, as Metal Blade Records - despite so far only seeing Amon Amarth vinyls from their label in that particular location - somehow put a special edition Vinyl+CD with an attached art and lyric book right there in my local record store just a week after my discovery. (I swear I'm not trying to sell things.) Needless to say, that was the last I saw of that 50€ bill, but I got a 25% discout, which is nice.
On to the review; I had already given praise to the first two tracks and my opinion has obviously not changed mid-review. A Silent Man pulled me in with it's unsettling and excitement-inducing up-tempo riffs, while Lay Your Head to Rest held me back and never let me go thanks to it's grinding doom metal atmosphere. As opposed to my initial intimidation with the record's lenght, the album doesn't really drag for me, as no moment feels wasted, even if it does feel a bit too long at times. I guess, I would have wished for the album to be a bit more experimental, however. I am by now familiar with their dabbling in industrial fill-ins (as in Vertikal) or Crossing Over from their third record Salvation, which is notably softer and gentler than anything that can be heard on A Dawn to Fear, which even in it's lighter moments is still prone to sticking to it's doom & gloom, that blends in admittingly neatly with their mix of sludge and post-metal.
To end the review on a positive note again, I would like to mention, that no track on the record feels like wasted space on the playlist. The album openers - which despite their lenght are still pretty good single material - pull you into the story of an approaching doom, as Nightwalkers slowly creeps up on you by the 26 minute mark. Another great stop in the tracklist is the 15 minute monster of a song, that is Lights on the Hill with it's slow build-up to yet another great chapter of the approaching catastrophe. Tracks like A Dawn to Fear and We Feel the End serve as good pace-changers to the album's otherwise predominantly heavy style and help lead up to the final, that is The Fall nicely.
I guess at the end of the day, I'm not completely sure whether I'd call A Dawn to Fear the metal album of the year. It's an excellent release and a great evolution of the band's sound. The lyrical themes and atmosphere are excellent as well, but I can't help feeling like this isn't quite the ground-breaking record I'd expected to hear, not to mention Blood Incantation is quite a heavy contender this year. But don't let this discourage you, as the band still put together an excellent new chapter to their musical journey and convinced me to dig in deep into their discography for a whole 5 albums within just two months and easily convinced me to go see them live upcoming december.