Cult of Luna - The Long Road North (2022)Release ID: 33936
Yet another stunning highlight from a band that is now the clear leader of the post-sludge metal movement, “The Long Road Home" is an album that creeps up on you slowly, gradually attaching itself to your heart-strings & ever so gently increasing the tension until Cult of Luna have you strung up so tight that you feel you'll likely burst at any moment. The album starts off in fairly predictable fashion & (as Sonny spoke of in his review) you're very unlikely to be surprised by what you receive with a new Cult of Luna record however I simply cannot deny that the class & sophistication that this band possesses places them up above their peers when I experience the stunning attention to detail & compositional complexity they invariably produce.
Things only start to really get going with the glorious atmospherics of earie third track "Beyond I" but they rarely subside from that point onwards. As usual with me, it's the least popular tracks that I rate the highest with short post-rock piece "Full Moon" & closing ambient number "Beyond II" stealing the show from wonderful post-sludge epics like "An Offering to the Wild" or "Blood Upon Stone". "The Long Road Home" is perfectly suited to it's title as it's a lengthy record at 69 minutes but will continue to open up with each listen, offering increasingly greater rewards for the active listener's investment. "Somewhere Along The Highway" may still be Cult of Luna's crowning achievement however "The Long Road Home" isn't all that far behind their best work & I'd even go so far as to say that it has a slight advantage over their classic 2004 third album "Salvation" for me these days. Essential listening for post-metal fans.
I know I am supposed to bow down in obeisance and offer up my eternal gratitude that Cult of Luna have deigned to provide us with yet more proof of their superiority to us lesser beings in the form of their latest release. But, in all honesty, I just feel a bit... cheated.
I came late to the CoL party, only getting into them since joining Metal Academy and hearing that nearly everyone rated them very highly indeed. And, yes, they are a fantastic band and yes, The Long Road North sounds great. Yet somehow it has still left me feeling strangely empty. The reason why is that it sounds exactly how I expected it to. It is performed, written and produced to a ridiculously high standard, as is everything I've heard from the band and therein lies the problem. It feels like their music, despite being amazing, is so formulaic that you could remove all the covers from your CoL albums and just leave them on the shelf with Cult of Luna written on each in marker pen and it wouldn't matter which one you pulled out and put on the turntable as the experience would be the same.
I understand it sounds ridiculous to say that an album sounds great and then slag it off and I probably sound like a giant arsehole, but I genuinely feel disappointed in The Long Road North. I feel like I've pulled back the curtain on the Wizard of Oz and got wise to his trickery. I could, without feeling any sense of internal conflict, rate this album anywhere from 3.5 (any less would be churlish) to 5.0.
Reviewing it musically, I could go "blah, blah, blah slow build up... blah, soaring crescendo... blah, superb musicianship... blah, blah tight composition" but I can't be arsed if truth be told. For me, I think how highly I regard Cult of Luna albums will be in the order in which I heard them as I get a diminished return from each one, so Somewhere Along the Highway will probably always remain my favourite and possibly the only Cult of Luna album I will ever need.
If you don't share my misgivings then I would say, yes definitely go out and get this album because it IS indeed a very good one and you will love it.
Previously, on Cult of Luna's journey, they've released a perfect set of releases in the past few years. After a collaboration album Mariner (with Julie Christmas), they made a double album A Dawn to Fear, and then a single EP half that album's length (The Raging River). Would they continue their perfect streak here?
These Swedish post-sludge metal legends continue their unique 21st century road. Like I said, their previous 3 album's mark their perfect streak, with even The Raging River reaching an inspiring force for a 40-minute EP, after the massive 80-minute A Dawn to Fear. The Long Road North continues that streak and, according to vocalist/guitarist Johannes Persson, is the last part of this new era. Though I'm sure they would be more depending on the album's success, which I think is at a high point of likeliness.
Cult of Luna already knows how to open an album like this with "Cold Burn", a powerful track that moves forward through 10 minutes fast in a fun way. And by fun, I mean filled with dynamic crushing atmosphere, a crucial part of their post-metal to reward listeners! "The Silver Arc" continues the riff-rumble with some delicate subtlety. "Beyond I" is the first of 3 interludes here, with stunning vocals by Mariam Wallentin. Another thing making the album remarkable is, after every two tracks of crushing metal, a soft interlude comes along. Wallentin's haunting vocal melodies work well over keyboard textures.
The highlight "An Offering to the Wild" carries the strong atmosphere back into the sludgy heaviness, with additional instrumentation by Colin Stetson, best known for his film soundtracks including Hereditary. This cinematic composition expands into chaotic cacophony by the end of its 13-minute length. "Into the Night" is where the band evokes unforgiving nature in feared reverence. "Full Moon" extends the nature but this time in the cold desolation of the unknown. Quite an immersive element!
The quality stays strong in the title track, keeping up the album's dynamic journey. "Blood Upon Stone", is the apocalyptic climax as the two guitarists from the band Phoenix join in, Christian Mazzalai and Laurent Brancowitz. Then the listeners can relax for the "Beyond II" outro, again with Stenson, showing that the band's quest is again achieved.
The Long Road North continues the band's triumphant reign. This 70-minute album keeps you in attention, and it's a long road you feel like taking again and again. Cult of Luna continues their path with an album that has hopefully made sure that this is not the end of their road!
Favorites: "Cold Burn", "An Offering to the Wild", "Into the Night", "The Long Road North", "Blood Upon Stone"