Review Summary: The moon cult confirms that they’re still at the top of the post metal food-chain
Post metal as a genre has always felt like one of the most masculine forms of music to me. It’s a genre that takes itself super seriously, with serious men (usually with big beards) dealing out some seriously heavy and crushing music. I think this is one of the reasons that 2016’s ‘Mariner’ stood out so much. It added a form of femininity in the form of Julie Christmas. Noted, it wasn’t an overly womanly addition, with her voice going dark and sinister more often than not, but one can’t deny that it gave the heavy screams of Johannes Persson a counterpoint to lighten the load a little. It also helped the music itself from becoming overbearing or monotonous and gave focus to the songs in the form of melodic hooks and recurring themes.
It would’ve been easy for Cult of Luna to fall back into comfort after that. The ‘let’s do the same thing but without the female vocals’ approach would’ve probably been a logical one, safe for the fact that it would’ve probably ended in a regression in terms of quality. See, you can’t just cut out the most innovative factor of your last album and hope to gain the same result. Thankfully, our Swedish friends have understood this and have done their absolute best to give us an album that is as varied and titanic as ‘Mariner’ was. The best part of it? They succeeded.
As stated, the biggest problem the music of Cult of Luna post Julie Christmas faces is it becoming too stuffed and brick-walled. The cult’s music is climactic to a fault, and without the help of some tension relieving additions, the songs just become one long stretch of wall-of-sound ideas that tire the listener. They addressed this potential issue by focusing on two points specifically: The addition of clean vocals and the use of longer instrumental meanderings to give the whole album some room to breathe.
When I’m talking clean vocals, don’t expect Cult of Luna to go the way of The Ocean, using it whenever the mood strikes them and on a 50/50 basis. No, on ‘A Dawn to Fear’ it is used sparingly and only when it truly fits the music. The start of the title track is the best example of this. At this point you are two songs and close to 20 minutes in and it marks the first point of the album where the foot is off the gas. In come the low, almost drone like vocals that fit perfectly to the moody atmosphere and the low tempo. The cleans don’t overstay their welcome, because just at the right time the song starts building and in come the heavy, sludgy guitars and screams that build to a slow burning climax that is all the more rewarding and satisfying because of the way it is set up.
Instrumental passages, that give us a little downtime to catch our collective breaths, are the other way in which ‘A Dawn to Fear’ keeps the music varied and interesting. Most songs have these build in, like in album highlight Lights on the Hill
. The song starts with a simple theme that repeats for a couple of minutes, using slight variations to keep it from becoming stale. But slowly, in true ‘post’ fashion, it becomes bigger… and bigger… and bigger, until it explodes in a cacophony of gargantuan riffs that leave me with a smile on my face and a shake of the head in amazement.
Luckily, not all the songs on Cult of Luna’s latest are of the typical ‘build it slow and end it larger than life’ category. Lay Your Head to Rest
, the album’s second single, has a more immediate approach that revolves around a strong guitar melody that immediately sticks and doesn’t need multiple listens to click. It is the kind of song you showcase to someone who wants to know what the genre is all about, without it coming in a ten-minute package. Nightwalkers
uses a similar approach, albeit in a longer form. The main theme comes in at the 3 minute mark and then continues to ebb and flow in intensity, keeping the listener on its toes for the full duration.
ends the album on a high point. Using the same slow-burner approach as Lights on the Hill
, it is the perfect way to culminate this 79 minute behemoth of a record in style. The fact that not all songs use this same approach, a trap that many post-rock and -metal bands fall prey to, makes songs like The Fall
and Lights on the Hill
become the highlights of the album, without diminishing the effect of the other songs.
All in all, with ‘A Dawn to Fear’ Cult of Luna prove that they are still leaps and bounds ahead of the competition. Using varied songwriting and enough breathing room to make the big ones pop, it leaves us with one of the best albums of the year. It can stand on its own next to the likes of ‘Mariner’ and proves that they don’t need the help of outside vocalists to be the best version of themselves.