Album Review – Cult Of Luna – The Long Road North

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Is the second week of February too early to announce my favourite album of 2022? I guess it probably is, but the metal world is going to struggle to outshine the incredible piece of art that CULT OF LUNA unleash this week.

For more than two decades, the Swedes have forged a sound that has grown incomparable to that of others. Ambitious, epic, visceral, and drenched in emotion, they frequently craft songs that clock in at over eight minutes but make every single moment count. With 2019’s A Dawn To Fear, they delivered a career highpoint, and on 2021’s The Raging River EP, they continued on the journey started with that record, one that concludes with The Long Road North, which stands as one of their most dynamic and beautiful works to-date.

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According to vocalist/guitarist Johannes Persson, The Long Road North is a title that symbolizes the mental journey I went through a few years ago. The lyric to the song was one of the first that I wrote when we started writing again after Mariner [from 2016]… If A Dawn To Fear and The Raging River were born from making sense of some sort of emotional chaos, The Long Road North is an analogy for finding a way out of it and taking the first step towards where I want to be.”

This record represents a journey, not only in the title but throughout the ebb & flow of each monolithic track. Opener, Cold Burn sets the tone perfectly for what lies ahead. It’s epic and crushing, without being overwhelming in its ferociousness. Over nine minutes, the song incorporates massive, sludgy riffs, solid percussion and cinematic keyboard flourishes to create something dynamic yet full of emotion.

This template is also apparent on The Silver Arc which drags you deeper into the Cult Of Luna landscape before the mood eases with Beyond I featuring a hauntingly gorgeous vocal from Mariam Wallentin, vocalist with Swedish jazz duo Wildbirds & Peacedrums. These more subdued moments are scattered throughout the record, often midway through the songs, and only help to make the heavy sections feel all the more colossal.

Case in point is An Offering To The Wild which opens with an eerie guitar refrain that slowly builds over a few minutes before the band unleashes a furious landslide of riffs and tortured screams from Persson. His vocals throughout the album are outstanding, constantly adding to the heart-rending and vivid textures of the music.

Over the course of 70 minutes (yet only nine songs!), The Long Road North transports the listener through bleak, sombre passages full of pain, anguish and desperation to immensely expansive tracks delivered with cataclysmic intensity. It all feels somewhat apocalyptic at times but rewards the listener with each playback. It’s a record that requires multiple listens to truly reveal all its layers.

When Cult Of Luna do let loose, those metal fans who just want to band their heads will not be let down. There are moments where the music is frantic and ferocious with the interplay between drummer Thomas Hedlund and Andreas Johansson’s driving bass lines adding to the urgency of the tracks.

Most of the songs, however, benefit from the gradual shifts from more intimate moments of reflection to huge climaxes of hypnotic and crushing post-metal. Epic closer Beyond II features Colin Stetson, who has worked with Arcade Fire, Bon Iver and Tom Waits, but most recently is known for his soundtrack work, including the Hereditary OST.

The Long Road North has enough depth to keep it sounding fresh each time it’s enjoyed. Few bands out there right now come close to creating such atmosphere and intensity. This is a group that continues to push its creativity and musical scope. Enjoy the journey.

The Long Road North will be released on 11th February 2022 via Red Creek Records//Metal Blade Records.

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