For the past decade, Swedish post-metal outfit Cult of Luna have risen to the top echelons of post-metal for their work in the genre’s development since the days of Neurosis and Isis‘ peak creative output. 2013’s Vertikal saw the band craft their most ambitious album to date, thanks in part to its conceptual ties to Fritz Lang’s 1927 science fiction classic Metropolis, inspiring a deep emotional core and wondrous cinematic scope. Coincidentally, fellow post-metal trailblazers The Ocean took to adapting Tarkovsky’s 1979 film Stalker for their album Pelagial’s musical and lyrical concept the same year, and the two records elevated each other and the genre to new heights.
Vertikal’s success notwithstanding, it was the act’s 2016 collaborative record with Julie Christmas, Mariner, that brought the band to a greater international audience, attention, and critical praise. Julie’s singing style brought more opportunities for the band to emphasize melody and texture during the more “active” phases of their metal performance, and complimented and highlighted the band’s strengths as cohesive, full-album songwriters, weaving conceptual and cinematic tones throughout.
In their much anticipated follow-up to Mariner, the band returned to their core writing mode free of outside collaborators for their Metal Blade debut A Dawn To Fear, and have simplified their songwriting process to eschew a full-album concept, instead offering a collection of independent songs without preconceptions in the writing process. The result of this experiment is a record that is massive, plodding, expansive, and pensive, if not daunting and exhausting for those who aren’t too keen on The Big Slow™
The structure A Dawn To Fear is comparable to Vertikal. Aside from being an independently written record, A Dawn To Fear places its best foot forward in lead single “The Silent Man” which offers stomping sludge riffs, roving synths, and dynamic percussion, easily earning status as this record’s “I, The Weapon,” which opened Vertikal to prog metal aesthetics as much as post-, sludge, and doom.
Beyond “The Silent Man,” the band drops the tempo to sludgier and doomier realms for a much darker approach. “Lay Your Head To Rest” beefs up its massive chorus riff with layers of synth and guitar effects before dropping out into spiraling, hypnotic drones and returning to greater affect. The title track to follow utilizes sparse instrumentation, cycling twangy guitars over a droning progression and a texture-minded percussive section. Somber cleans carry “A Dawn To Fear” through to its halfway point, where the song breaks out to climax.
“Nightwalkers” continues the slow-and-low tones, building repetitive progressions to climax with lumbering riffs and vicious, throaty growls. “Lights on the Hill”, the longest track at just over 15 minutes in length, does this as well, but leans into the band’s post-rock influences and wastes little time getting to the point with a more satisfying and near-breathtaking instrumental section that may easily become the most underrated moment on A Dawn To Fear.
“We Feel The End” is a more low-key ambient piece that calls back to Vertikal’s “Passing Through” in its minimal instrumental, use of droning guitars, and use of vocal effects. It’s the final lull before “Inland Rain” brings the album’s rising action, easing the band back into distorted riffing in its first half before delivering some of the aforementioned “active” Cult of Luna sound in its second half with haunting and exhilarating melodic work and sludge riffs. “The Fall” serves as an immensely satisfying finale, moving between energetic and propulsive post-metal to introspective instrumental interludes, and in its runtime runs the gamut of the entire Cult of Luna playbook, offering a summation of not only A Dawn To Fear, but the discography at large.
Truth be told, A Dawn To Fear has a lot of downtime, and it’s a lot. It’s a towering, monolithic record at 80 minutes in length across eight tracks, making it a more challenging listen than anything they band have released thus far. Initial listens were difficult, as the record demands attention and patience, even as the act spends a large portion of the middle of the album indulging their most pensive and meandering musical instincts. But Cult of Luna are consistent, and despite the lack of an overarching concept or vision to tie the album together, the album is surprisingly cohesive with a ubiquitous emotional quality and tone that runs throughout. Fans expecting a continuation of Mariner might be disappointed, but tried-and-true sludge and post-metal fans that live for Vertikal deep cuts will be satisfied with the developments of A Dawn To Fear.
A Dawn To Fear is out September 20th on Metal Blade Records. Pre-orders are available at this location.