Expectation fills the air as seven figures take their places wordlessly on the Assembly Hall stage.
Cult Of Luna have come a long way since the release of their self-titled debut 15 years ago. Indeed, the enigmatic Swedes have almost reached the point at which they can do whatever they like.
They arrive in Islington a few days after the release of Mariner, an album (their eighth in total) made with New York-based singer Julie Christmas, whose previous experience includes stints with Made Out Of Babies and Battle Of Mice. For most acts, this would be the ideal justification to fill the set with new, unheard material. Cult Of Luna, though, do exactly the opposite, and Mariner goes unrepresented.
Instead, tonight is about celebrating the 10th anniversary of the band’s fourth album, Somewhere Along The Highway. However, the set actually gets underway with a selection of six catalogue nuggets.
The decision to overlook the group’s first two albums (Cult Of Luna and The Beyond) betrays the fact that their style has developed into something that’s commonly labelled post-metal. Though early roots now provide a discernible foundation, those dim and distant doom metal days are far behind them. That’s not to understate their predilections for slow, pounding riffs and wide-open soundscapes so much as to emphasise that the post-millennial Cult Of Luna
are more esoteric and, yes, let’s say it, artistic.
The growled vocals will be a definite turn-off for some, and for those inclined to do so, it would be easy to dismiss the band as a detuned, repetitive wall of noise. The presentation – or lack thereof – doesn’t help matters. Performing one song after another without verbal introduction on a dimly-lit stage, the players reduced to silhouettes for the entire show, is presumably intended to focus the audience’s listening skills. But from up here, sitting still in the darkness of the balcony for two hours, a wearying sense of disconnection can lead to torpor or, worse, lethargy.
Whoever is manipulating Cult Of Luna’s layered, clanking, often ferocious but sometimes beautiful noise from behind the mixing desk deserves an almighty pat on the back. As we enter the show’s second half with that revision of Somewhere Along The Highway, things really take off, stretching out into songs that are 10 or 11 minutes long, sometimes more.
Building from a gentle, repetitive pulse to a full-throated, almost symphonic-sounding outpouring of confusion and rage over the course of quarter of an hour, Dark City, Dead Man brings things to a nerve-shredding close.
The band close their set with the simple cry of, “Thanks London, you’ve been great!” before fading back into the gloom from whence they came.