Cult Of Luna have frequently presented listeners with a sense of physical space, often coupled with a sense of journey. This applies to both the music they make – long, winding compositions that are as much about the scenery as the destination – and the concepts behind it. After exploring Fritz Lang’s stark Metropolis and journeying into outer space with Julie Christmas, the band have, in recent years, seemingly hunkered down and returned to earth, leaving behind the familiar post-metal grid for wilder climes where the pathways are treacherously overgrown.
The Long Road North continues this same trajectory, and the rugged life suits them. Opening with a seismic groan, Cold Burn serves as a furious statement of intent: a mix of shimmering guitars, glowering drones and propulsive drumming that brings to mind a krautrock Neurosis. Elsewhere, The Silver Arc sees its vast, rumbling riffs connected by a delicate latticework of subtler elements, while An Offering To The Wild begins with a solemn, near-ritual traipse before raising itself up into an ungodly pillar of flame. Similarly savage is the album’s title track, which makes you feel as though you’ve been caught in a meteor shower with just a cocktail umbrella for protection, its tumultuous climax among the band’s most skull-splittingly intense moments.
As longtime fans might expect, however, this ingenious brutality is far from the be-all and end-all, and it’s in the stranger, more liminal moments where the band show the greatest growth. Mariam Wallentin’s aching rasp adds incredible depth to the brief Beyond I, while composer/multi-instrumentalist Colin Stetson helps close the album on a note that’s both hopeful and terrifying. This willingness to explore and experiment ensures The Long Road North is both cerebral and exhilaratingly heavy, and should leave us all hoping that the band’s arduous, eventful journey has no end in sight.
The Long Road North is out February 11 via Metal Blade