Album Review: Cult of Luna - A Dawn To Fear

Artist: Cult of Luna Album: A Dawn to Fear Genre: Post-Metal Review by Mothlord It would have been a difficult task for Cult of Luna to follow up 2016’s “Mariner”, a transcendent masterpiece forged in collaboration with American singer and musician, Julie Christmas. The album was very well received and set a new standard for the band, with many calling it one of the best metal records of the decade to this very day. This isn’t to overshadow the bands previous albums which all stand strong on their own. So it is with great satisfaction that they release their new album A Dawn to Fear, an album that clearly has been made with the intent and care you would expect from a band of this calibre and reputation. But also with excitement, that the band is touching on some new realms in this record, finding a focus that is a little darker and gloom soaked than before. Bare in mind this review is written from the perspective of a person who has reasonable experience listening to their expansive catalogue. The album opens with "A Silent Man", it drifts in upon a haze of rotting reverb tinged feedback, setting the tone for this record. Drums soon follow in a primal and forward moving momentum, to unleash a focused and aggressive riff that is akin to what is expected of the genre and the band at this stage, but it also is leaden with a subtle sense of hostility, as much of this record is. We soon unfold into an epic delay soaked chorus and again more of the notable darkness creeps in. The melodies do take us away as we have come to expect, but this time it doesn’t feel like you are taken to a place of pure comfort and bliss. Something about this experience is very human, uncertain, angst ridden and somewhat despondent. It is humbling.

"Lay Your Head to Rest", opens with a characteristic groove that lays a foundation for wafting atmospheric guitar and synthesizer elements, and makes space for the throat shredded vocals to make themselves fully known. This song is driven by a much more dreamlike persona that is perhaps closer to what you would expect. But beneath the soothing elements there are tinges of minor chords that linger like a shadow in peripheral. This feels good, but I cannot relax within this fully. The song builds upon this, to climax into a brief but fever pitched mash of writhing drum work, and layered elements to suddenly drop you into the release of grizzled synthesizer. Title track "A Dawn to Fear" spends most its time leaving you in the embrace of softer atmospheres. It has a dark folk vibe, with it’s simplistic drumming paired with tambourine and loosely rumbling bass guitar. This is paired with low, near spoken singing resounding as if from a despondent choir. As the drums build, we are introduced to a more haunting melody that rises and creeps until we are dropped into thick but minimalistic sludge riffage. This is before returning to a more fully realised representation of the former half of the song. The following two songs "Nightwalker" and "Light On The Hill", feel a little less drawn out in their presentation. We have the expected and satisfying builds and pay offs. The former of two perhaps being a personal favourite of the record, due to it’s latent sense of hostility and forward moving aggression. "Light On The Hill", having more of the traditional crystalline qualities we’ve previously experienced from the band, but again demonstrates how again with this album, we are treated to nice melodies, that turn at the last second to something slightly disturbing or saddening. "We Feel The End", seems aptly placed as it is the third last song. It is a mostly atmospheric piece that pulses with echoing bass guitar and guitar work that hums almost like violin in the distance. It is eerie in it’s beauty. "Inland Rain", feels as if it is the penultimate piece in this album. The record has nearly resolved itself, but is still determined to deliver it’s message. We still have you, we still have more to teach. The emotions are incredibly melancholic on this song. This is a sad song, but it is written in a way that allows you a space to feel comfort within. There is great satisfaction but also sadness is reaching this part of the record, as we are near the end. And those poignant feelings are etched into the recurring lurching riff motif, that peaks into a climax of resolution.

We now take our final steps through the threshold of "The Fall". The song takes its time with the listener, building in our usual sense of soft guitars accompanied by building tom work. We are soon dropped into one of the more involved riffs on the album, a coup de grâce for the listener. This song is writhing with angst, it seethes with resentment directed inwards and outwards. All teeth are bared this time around. You are taken through as many movements as the record has songs. This is the culmination of whatever lessons have been taught throughout the expanse of the record. You are about to leave, so receive this final gift.

A moment of brief reprive from the onslaught, a dip into a cool pool of echoing slightly dissonant but typically lush guitar work. The melody is one of the most memorable from this record, and it imparts you with a feeling of longing. A similar feeling to when one finishes a book or film series, and is left unsure of what to do with oneself once the journey ends. The layers build, upon each other over and over, intertwining and coagulating into a near ecstasy of sound and emotion. We are soaring into a blinding white light, uncertain, abject but hopeful. And just before it goes too far, we are thrust backwards by the final words, to an empty ring out symbolic of perhaps our not being ready to reach this zenith. What we expect from Cult of Luna, is an epic and dreamlike journey, hinged upon mountainous riffage and swooning down into wombing valleys. But this time, as previously stated the tone feels darker, a touch unsettling. To define what it is to be very human in quality, by my standards it means that it hits closer to home, it is characterized by contrasted elements, deep aggressive rhythms, counterpointed by melancholic ethereal elements. The melodies begin to pull you into a safe and comforting embrace, only to squeeze a little too tightly. To drag you to a place perhaps you are less ready to venture to, before releasing you from the anxiety to something a little more open and freeing. This is a record that does not wish to hold your hand as much as prior entries. There feels as if there is a more serious idea to convey, and it is done masterfully. If you are not familiar with the band, this album is a perfect place to start. It houses all of the tropes you would expect from the band and the genre, honed and mastered in their application. Whilst previous albums have seemed sculpted from glistening, azure minerals. A Dawn To Fear is chiseled from gritty blackened stone. It is this mastery of their art that has allowed the band to bear their teeth a little more than normal. And on its cessation I am left with baited breath wondering where the band could go from here. And somewhat desperate to being flagellated once again. 9.5 out of 10.

A Dawn to Fear is out now on Metal Blade Records.

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