Cult of Luna's fourth album Somewhere Along the Highway was miraculously recorded in merely seven days. Given their amazing back catalog and how their previous effort Salvation was considered their peak, this is certainly interesting. How can you follow up such a masterpiece with an album recorded so quickly? Well, Cult of Luna have once again achieved it. Though too early to form a final opinion, Somewhere Along the Highway may end up being most of their fans' favourite release in more than one way.
While accurate to a certain extent, comparing Cult of Luna to Isis, Pelican, and Neurosis constantly would be unfair. It is true that all of these bands have a lot in common musically, but upon careful listens, beautiful subtleties emerge on each band's work. Of the four bands though, Cult of Luna's music is arguably the most linear one. Never for a moment do they sacrifice song structure in hopes of impressing the listener with their meandering instrumentals or oft-changing chord progressions. That said, complex arrangements and monstrous soundscapes are aplenty on any of their albums, including Somewhere Along the Highway. However, Cult of Luna songs are always masterfully constructed, mixing heaviness with an atmospheric undertone. Churning rhythms are repeated to generate a feeling of unity before unleashing massive cosmic forces at the most unexpected breaking points. The aggressive hardcore type of scream vocals are less prominent on this disc. Actually Klas Rydberg sings in his calming clean voice on several tracks, which sounds a lot more mature and improved this time around. The drone approach also takes a back seat, giving way to a more open sound through most of the album, where the band successfully creates spacey atmospheres and flashes of uplifting enlightment.
Starting with the ambitious "Marching to the Heartbeats", Rydberg's clean vocals and the dreamy ebb and flow on the musical landscape, along with beautifully strummed acoustic guitars, bring to mind the serene moments heard on Mogwai albums, before the vocalist graces the piece with his tortured screams, not too different from his work on The Beyond. The riffs and continued brutal vocals on "Finland" suggest that the previous track was just a lengthy intro to the piece, as the drone effect is almost nonexistent, leaving its place to much welcome heavy passages. Drums roll while guitars form an ethereal mood on "Back to Chapel Town", with soul-crushing screaming, and big, wall-of-sound guitars.
"And With Her Came the Birds" is utterly depressing and minimalistic. Completely clean-sung, the song features echoic guitar arpeggios, emphasized lyrics, a slowly-developing keyboard mix in the background, and a beautifully performed acoustic guitar-like instrument that has an odd exotic feel to it. "Thirtyfour" and "Dim" are mostly instrumental songs, save for their ending, where vocals explode during passages of reflection and melancholy. Thomas Hedlund's drumming on "Thirtyfour" lends it an almost funeral doom metal vibe, with sparse yet powerfully nuanced rhythms, while his unusual percussion blends nicely with the electronic sampling placed neatly underneath. A song with shifting dynamics, it contains both super-heavy sections with growling bass and guitar and softer, more fragile textures. "Dim" is arguably the most spacey number on the album, again marked by unforgettable drumming, and a largely electronic backdrop. Yet everything is so perfectly balanced that this is perhaps the most organic song on the platter, with its open sound and creative mixing. Rydberg's vocals arrive exactly during the song's most climactic phase, making it one of their most amazing songs to date.
Never heard Cult of Luna before and don't know where to begin? Start with Somewhere Along the Highway. Up until a month ago, I'd have laughed if someone said they are going to top Salvation, but it seems this band has no limits. Very highly recommended.
- Marching to the Heartbeats
- Back to Chapel Town
- And With Her Came the Birds
- Dark City, Dead Man