The word ‘redshift’ describes beams of light that stretch beyond the earth – the farther away they are, the redder they appear. It’s the perfect image to represent today’s Cult Of Luna-curated festival of the very best in experimental post-rock, spread over three venues in north London and showcasing bands who specialise in pushing musical boundaries.
Upstairs in Tufnell Park’s Dome, Somerset’s Blueneck provide the widest dynamic range of the day. From an ambient drone opening, they launch into a heavy groove. Sparse piano-vocal arrangements build in intensity to ecstatic levels of noise. Every last morsel of emotional significance is wrung from each repetitive downward-spiralling chord progression. It’s draining and overly prolonged, but when it works best, it’s genuinely thrilling.
Esben And The Witch begin their set in exploratory fashion. Pointillistic guitar notes are accompanied by hesitant, searching percussion. The atmosphere is ethereal with a psych-folk influence, primarily attributable to Thomas Fisher’s finger-style guitar technique. As the set progresses, the trio gather menace, leading to a series of explosive post-rock outbursts. One of today’s most pleasing discoveries.
Nip down the rabbit hole and you’ll find yourself in the Boston Music Room, which today plays host to a veritable cornucopia of horned beasties and swooping entities. Petter Carlsen, a humble, measured musician who toured with Wisdom Of Crowds last year, is mesmerising. The Norwegian beams at a grateful crowd who are so glad to be on the end of his soft-edged Anathema-meets-Band-Of-Horses acoustic sound.
Thought Forms similarly pack out the room and set off, after extensive tuning, with the gnawing, obsessive riff of Landing. The vocals verge on jarring, but it’s hard not to be drawn to a band who invest in such an exploratory flavour of music.
Lastly, Sleepmakeswaves go off like a school trip to Cadbury World, heads touching the ceiling as they strike the first note. To see these Australian post-rockers ecstatically, hungrily playing to a packed room halfway across the world is an incomparable experience.
Over at The Forum, God Is An Astronaut are masters of melding melodic passages with back-breakingly heavy soundscapes. Almost every one of their songs, from the groovy beat of Echoes to the keyboard-led melancholy of Forever Lost, builds up with beautiful melody before abruptly breaking through with synth-heavy, crushing waves of feedback and racing riffs, making their krautrock-tinged electronica and post-rock simultaneously mind‑bending and mesmerising.
Though The Forum is sparsely attended when they begin their set this afternoon, after the first few songs, the place soon becomes packed. Such emotional music demands a powerful performance, and though the Kinsella brothers Torsten and Niels, on guitar and bass respectively, look slightly awkward under the spotlight, as though they’re not quite sure how they got here, they do occasionally lose themselves in the sheer power of the music. They stand still, eyes closed and heads nodding to the melodic passages, banging their heads ferociously to the heavier parts.
Piano/synths man Jamie Dean, on the other hand, exudes consistent charisma, headbanging, racing across the stage, pounding the keyboards and shredding his guitar with gusto. Their show today is an exhilarating and emotionally charged whirlwind that has no doubt won them over plenty of new fans.
A quick nip back to The Dome, and a visibly different Amplifier cause us to do a double-take. Gone are the sharp black suits and ties. Sel Balamir sports a mane of long hair, baseball cap and Cardiacs T-shirt (whose drummer, Bob Leith, is sitting in for the day). This is a band in transition. As they premiere several tracks from their upcoming new studio album Mystoria, it’s clear that their DNA is unchanged, while old favourites such as The Wave, Motorhead and Airborne sound as exciting as ever.
Back at the Forum, Cult Of Luna throw us violently head first into a visual extravaganza that complements their mammoth sounds that weigh heavy on the soul. Lights pulse and swirl in time to the swell and beat of their expansive music, making the gut-wrenchingly emotional effect of songs like Eternal Kingdom and Genesis all the more powerful. And with their set two hours long, the planning and attention to detail that’s gone into tonight is staggering.
As well as having Gaahl from God Seed (who played earlier today) join them onstage for Ghost Trail, there’s another special guest tonight: former Cult Of Luna frontman Klas Rydberg, who joins them for the majority of the set to rapturous audience response. The passion that the band exude is as forceful and affecting as the light show. That’s particularly true of Rydberg, who is visibly affected emotionally by the intensity of the event: he bends over, shaking, flails across the stage and falls to his knees with exhausted fervour.
The intensity has a final moment of catharsis following Leave Me Here, when the band smash up their instruments in a moment of raw exuberance.
With the future of Cult Of Luna uncertain as they undertake a hiatus, everyone who’s born witness to this show will carry the memory with them long after the set ends.