Overall Score: 9/10 Performances: 10/10 Songwriting: 9/10 New Ideas: 8/10 Pros: By upping their cinematic quality, The Long Road North is another step towards post-metal perfection Cons: Cult Of Luna have been this great for so long that it still feels like there’s another step to come
Cult Of Luna have been celebrated in post-metal circles for a long time now but their recent run of releases stand shoulder-to-shoulder with any band’s recent form. 2016’s Mariner and 2019’s A Dawn To Fear alongside 2021’s The Raging River EP didn’t just solidify their place as one of the best bands in the scene, it took their capabilities to new heights. On their ninth full-length album The Long Road North, they continue to venture down this path, setting another benchmark for themselves and for others to follow if they can even keep up.
Building songs and creating a sonic environment that engulfs you is what Cult Of Luna do best and by sharpening that tool in recent years, whilst simultaneously adding more feathers to their bow, it’s only natural this album would show progression. It’s not a huge step on from 2019’s A Dawn To Fear because that record already perfected so many elements but it’s definitely still moving forward. If there’s one word that sums up the tone of this record it’s cinematic. From the very first notes of the keyboards and drums that set you underway on the nearly 10-minute album opener Cold Burn, it’s clear this record is going to be huge in both scale and ambition.
Cult Of Luna sounding cinematic is something so obvious that it doesn’t even feel as though it needs mentioning but by playing on it, it forces the record to somehow feel grander than the band’s previous efforts. Colin Stetson, known for composing the original soundtrack for 2018’s Hereditary, is a collaborator on several tracks. This shows how far they’re willing to double down on the feel of the record. If it were a film soundtrack, The Long Road North would accompany a grand but deeply personal art film where every shot is worthy of hanging in one of the world’s finest galleries.
As is the case with every one of their releases, this record is a journey and every moving cog propels it. Nor a sprint or a marathon but more of a mountain climb, the ebbs and flows of The Long Road North carry so much emotion and impact. It transitions seamlessly between its changes in pacing and atmosphere. Out of any record that is supposed to feel like a journey, this album is so perfectly rooted in its themes and precisely put together that there is no other way to experience it. Having tracks over the ten-minute mark makes them journeys by themselves in the way Cult Of Luna builds them piece by piece into huge crescendos that give you the satisfaction of finally reaching that view you’ve been seeking. There’s so much life and nature in each second of this record that by the time you’ve realised what’s around you, it wouldn’t be unfair of them to be charging you rent with how much you’ve lived in their creation.
In a band bursting with incredible musicians, Thomas Hedlund’s drumming is once again a standout part of the record. Like a sherpa that knows this mountain like the back of their hand, the journey’s rises and falls all balance on the drums that let you know exactly where you are. The album’s sequencing does a great job of placing these momentum shifts to reflect its themes. With several more ambient moments and stripped-back tracks like Beyond I & II and Full Moon, they allow the listener a moment of respite before continuing down this path, almost signalling the start of a new day or act.
Whilst these moments of serenity showcase the band’s ability to write gorgeous pieces of music, it’s the records longest tracks which stand out. The shorter tracks serve as great accompaniments to them but when Cult Of Luna get to flex their song-building muscles over tracks like the ten-minute title track or the incredible near 13-minute An Offering To The Wild is where they get to soar. The performances and arrangements on the longer material are expertly crafted and put into place. Johannes’ vocals seem to pierce through the sound even harsher than before and the guitar work from Fredrik Kihlberg is a masterful display of restraint. On tracks like Into The Night he finds the perfect balance of filling that huge sonic space whilst coming to the forefront with some spiralling riffs exactly when the opportunity presents itself and not a moment too soon or too late.
When the conversation comes up of bands that you have to invest your time into to fully grasp them, Cult Of Luna are in a very very elite tier. The Long Road North’s nearly 70-minute runtime is vital to its journey in the way it forces you to really take it in. Once you give the record your time it rewards you with incredible pieces of music put together by one of the most skilled bands around today. To match the stellar quality of their previous releases is an incredible feat all on its own but to build on what they do with an even more cinematic approach is just masterful. There aren’t many records that promise a journey ahead and deliver on that so perfectly. The Long Road North in its music and its themes isn’t about getting to the destination, it’s the highs and lows you navigate on the way there.
The Long Road North releases on February 11 via Metal Blade Records.
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