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Cult Of Luna - A Dawn To Fear

Cult Of Luna: A Dawn To FearA Dawn To Fear is the Umeå sextet's eighth full length album. There's been three year gap between Mariner, recorded with Julie Christmas, and their welcome return with this release. Split across two cds this is an eighty minute journey into a fearful cacophony. This is not for the faint-hearted or the casual music fan as Cult Of Luna eschew traditional song structures, allowing their sound to build organically. They don't so much make music as carve it out of sonic pandemonium.

The album opens ominously with the sound of buzzing instruments which erupts into a huge wall of noise - earthquake inducing bass, pounding drums and rasping guitars, howling feedback. Thus begins The Silent Man and there's little let up for the next ten and a half minutes. Every now and again sounds coalesce out of the maelstrom; a piece of gorgeous slide guitar fights it's way to the surface like a drowning man gasping for air but all too soon it's reclaimed by the swirling chaos to be replaced by an organ weaving it's way through the clamour. There's a lull about three quarters of the way through which allows the band to build again towards a climactic end.

Lay Your Head To Rest is announced with militaristic drumming and a triumphal sounding riff. Slightly looser than the opener, it's no less turbulant but there's an ebb and flow. Sinister guitar passages underpinned by a discordant rumble allows the song to formulate towards another wall of noise which collapses in on itself, leaving gentle organ sounds in its wake.

It's apparent by now what an organic sounding album this is. The band refrained from their normal writing process of sending music to each other via email for actually recording together at Ocean Sound Recordings, a residential studio on an island off the coast of Norway, and you can hear the difference it has made. In an effort to keep a natural sound Kristian Karlsson abandoned the more industrial, modern sounds of Vertikal and turned to Hammond organs and other acoustic instruments. The band haven't abandoned their trademark post-metal sound they have just uncovered another aspect of it, as they tend to do with every album they make.

It's not all distortion pedal to the metal, overdriven, full on assault. The title track and We Feel The End hark back to some of the gentler songs from the likes of Salvation. The former a haunting, melody-soaked paean to death, the latter an organ-led, muted lament to acute dread.

Disk one ends with the slow, sludgy crawl of Nightwalkers. Like many bands of this ilk, Cult Of Luna draw out riffs and musical passages, stretching and twisting them, and the band are masters of their art. They are superb at creating dynamics within their songs, giving even their heaviest creations light and shade. Nightwalkers demonstrates this admirably, gradually speeding up, insistent drums driving the song forwards before dropping suddenly in tempo with plaintive, gentle guitar chords underpinned by that classic organ sound again.

The band have really managed to imbue A Dawn To Fear with a sense of disquiet, unease and foreboding. Much of the music is dense and claustrophobic, giving an air of creeping terror. It's like there's something right on the edge of your vision but every time you look, it's gone. Darkness and death enfold every fibre of this release, like a cowl over death's grinning skull. And through it all is Johannes Persson. Pretty much the leader, mouthpiece and heartbeat of the band since Klas Rydberg's departure, his oblique, ominous lyrics and sandblasted vocals are a cornerstone of Cult Of Luna's sound.

Johannes also shares guitar duties with Fredrik Kihlberg and Magnus Líndberg, creating that dense sonic turbulence, along with Andreas Johansson's resounding bass. I suspect some of the gentler singing is undertaken by Fredrik, as his voice is more melodic than Persson's hurricane roar. Thomas Hedlund's drumming is superb, from a monstrous din to a gentle rhythm and everything in between. Kristian Karlsson seems to revel in using older keyboard instruments rather than modern synths and samples.

Disk two isn't quite as intense as the first disk, although it opens with the epic journey into the gloom of Lights On The Hill. This lengthy song encapsulates all that is good about Cult Of Luna; the fragile, echoing beginning, the gradual build towards a pinnacle, the gorgeous euphony within the turmoil, the release of tension finishing the pilgrimage to obliteration.

We head towards the end of the album with the portentous Inland Rain, a slow dirge built on a combination of reverberating slide guitar and a staccato drum beat which bleeds into atmospheric closer The Fall. The Fall again tries to lull us into a false sense of security with its strange, gentle opening before monolithic riffs and skewed time changes smack you over the head. The noise recedes into merciful placidity again and again before the storm of noise rises to claim you. The last barked lyrics speak of rebirth or maybe an onward journey after death… "In the fall came the rain, flooded the fields, cleansed what remained. With new eyes she appears but I am no longer here" and with that the album fades to an end.

Despite the dark subject matter of the album it has a warm, rich sound. Recorded by Magnus Líndberg and Kristian Karlsson, and mixed by Líndberg they have managed to create a clear album, despite the density of much of the music. It makes sense for them to undertake these tasks as who would have a better idea of how a Cult Of Luna album should sound?

For a band who celebrated their 20th anniversary last year it's amazing that they are still recording, still pushing the boundaries of their music. They have always been an awkward, creative band but have never rested on their laurels. Making Mariner with Julie Christmas proved they aren't afraid to take risks and A Dawn To Fear is another step further along their musical highway. When they do decide to hang up their instruments they will leave behind a huge musical legacy.

Released: 20.09.19

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