Cult of Luna - Somewhere Along The Highway -2006 - Earache Records
1. Marching to the Heartbeats 2. Finland 3. Back to Chapel Town 4. And With Her Came The Birds 5. Thirtyfour 6. Dim 7. Dark City, Dead Man
When ‘post-rock’, ‘Neurosis-core’, ‘sludge’, etc., metal is concerned, the burning question is not whether the music is good—it almost invariably is—but rather, whether it is unique. This field has a stubborn tendency to adhere to the same structure for every song, resulting in a deluge of new bands who cannot really be called ‘bad’, but who bring absolutely nothing new to the field.
So, the challenge facing Cult of Luna with their new album ‘Somewhere Along the Highway’ is not to make simply ‘good’ music, but to make music that distinguishes them from a horde of competent contenders.
And they have, in fine, fine form. ‘Somewhere Along the Highway’ marks the band’s most diverse and emotionally charged offering to date. As with much music in this style, this album takes repeated listening to digest, but the eventual reward more than makes up for the initial effort.
Soundscape metal is always seeking a poignant balance between the cleansing catharsis of giant waves of low-end guitars and the tempering melancholy of an ethereal, droning melody. It is the ubiquitous formula seen in nearly every song written in this style. What Cult of Luna have realized here is that the magical balance is not always struck by writing each song as a crescendo, starting quietly and ending with a prolonged crash. Instead, it comes through honesty and genuine character, both things ‘Somewhere Along the Highway’ have in spades.
Since their debut, Cult of Luna have had some line-up changes, but the musical vision of founding members Klas Rydberg (vocals) and Johannes Person (guitar) has remained consistently tangible in a genre fraught with crippling esotericism. ‘Somewhere Along The Highway’ executes the genre-standard crescendo as well as anyone, but it also reaches out to the audience on other, unsuspected levels. Folk instrumentation, subtle though it may be, gives a refreshing, earnest feel to the album, and keeps the more abstract moments from being overwrought or long-winded. Also surprising is the drumming of new member Thomas Hedlund. So often, in atmospheric post-rock, drumming is either monotonous or overly progressive simply for its own sake, but Hedlund’s style is faintly jazzy, including some gentle syncopation—distinct without being overbearing.
Also, now that one of their member’s is a full time ‘sound engineer’, Cult of Luna have introduced a relatively bold electronic element into their material. Though keys make an obvious appearance but once, and that only at the song’s end, their inclusion marks an interesting paradigm shift, as few bands, if any, playing soundscape metal use such tools.
The vocals of Rydberg have been remarkably consistent over the years, and he still sounds nothing so much as a burly mountain man bellowing his anguish and joy to a cold, empty landscape. Which is, most likely, just how it happened.
To conclude succinctly, what makes ‘Somewhere Along The Highway’ a truly significant album is its ability to explore complex issues with remarkable economy. Cult of Luna is the musical Steinbeck: simple on the surface, vastly complex beneath, starkly painting the human condition with words we can all understand.
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