Release Date: 20 Sep 2019
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The point of post-metal, and its quieter cousin, post-rock, is to conjure up imaginative soundscapes using entirely traditional rock instrumentation. The leeway available as to what sort of soundscapes is immense and, while I'm an entry-level post- fan, I've already heard a lot of very different sounds out of this model.
Cult of Luna, on their sixth album (seven if you count a 2016 collaboration with Julie Christmas), sound much darker than the post-rock bands I've been exploring, perhaps as might be expected being post-metal. However, I think a deliberate choice factors into this too. They're not feeding off Shriekback or the Cocteau Twins as much as they are Coil and Nurse with Wound, albeit sans the wild experimentation.
Ten minutes of The Silent Man set the stage well. It starts out rather like a buzzsaw, with almost an industrial sound without any apparent electronica or samples. It quickly finds a groove, which is bleak and abrasive. I can't tell if the melody, when it comes, is the work of guitars with keyboards in assist or vice versa. Whichever, the resulting feel is dystopic, as if we're out there in a dangerous future (or maybe an alternate dystopian past, as it doesn't feel particularly futuristic), starting to realise that the world we thought was safe has been watching us and it's about to come down hard.
The vocals help, being something of a cross between a black metal shriek and a hardcore shout. While I wouldn't usually be a fan, I think they ably help the mood that the band are going for. They're not in our face the way that a hardcore voice would usually be, but they may well be sometime soon. They're harsh but a lot more human than shrieks would usually allow. I'm hearing big bad people out to get us, rather than demons or trolls or other supernatural creatures.
This mood continues on throughout the album, which is very long and features very few tracks. There are only eight on offer, only one of which runs short of seven minutes. Four of them last over ten and two of those do so by a big margin; Lights on the Hill is over fifteen minutes long. Each of them finds its own particular taken on dystopia though, so there is variety.
Lay Your Head to Rest almost pulses with sluggish life. A Dawn to Fear carries a real elegance, as if it's a David Bowie song lowered a few octaves and slowed down to boot. Nightwalkers is an industrial song recorded outside the factory rather than inside it, so we hear the clashes at a remove. There's a Joy Division sort of patience to it for a while, though it speeds up and gets more industrial.
As the longest song, Lights on the Hill should have impact and it does. It shows up well over half an hour into the song, the first in the second half, and it's slow and atmospheric, almost like this particular dystopia is post-apocalyptic and we've reverted to a wild west mentality. The wind is a major player for a while and we still hear it after it's gone. It escalates slowly but very surely. There's a real impact to it and the peaceful ending is odd but satisfying.
After that, I got tired. While Cult of Luna do what they do well, I find it wearing on the system. While thrash can clean me out and perk me up, this is the sort of music that can grind me back down again. If you're into that, I think this is emphatically for you. Otherwise, it starts to feel as long as it is, which is long enough to not fit on a single CD. The eight tracks add up to seventy-nine minutes and the least interesting tracks are at the tail end so, if this isn't your jam, it's going to get old long before it's over. I'd have given it an extra point if it had ended after Lights on the Hill.