Review: Cult of Luna – A Dawn to Fear
Post-metal, when done correctly, has this uncanny ability to make the listener believe that every moment is critically important to the story. There’s a secret to be unlocked, and the details may be hidden in the mundane. Like a suspenseful first-person present-tense narrative, you sense that the spoilers are all around you, yet the turn still defies expectations.
Even since the beginning, Cult of Luna have been masters of this language. Over the years, they have discarded a few elements that didn’t fit and added longer stretches of masterful groove, but shockingly little has changed besides the individual tint they give each album. A Dawn to Fear doesn’t buck that trend, delivering the same hypnotic layers we have come to expect, but somehow better than ever before. The depth of the production makes it all possible, with everything standing out so clearly with just enough of a masking overlap to keep you from hearing everything on the first listen.
The end of “The Silent Man” is a perfect example, when the organs get buried underneath the explosive rhythms and make it difficult to hear how one note transitions to the next. This elusiveness is magic—a repetitive melody on top with a sub-melody writhing about, nearly undetectable below the surface. The unfortunate thing about this effect being a key to enjoyment is that A Dawn to Fear could make for a pretty unremarkable passive listening experience. You’d perk up for the climaxes but could easily miss how you got there.
If you have listened to any Cult of Luna before, you’ll know about this layer building style and come to expect a little bit of a trudge at the beginning when things are at their most raw. “Nightwalkers” takes almost five minutes to hit something memorable, rests on that idea for a minute, then rips open at the seams. Of course, to follow up a structure that uses their tested playbook, they drop the track that is perhaps the most different for the band in “Lights on the Hill.” A maybe-too-long four-minute intro gets you ready for this very progressive-infused track that contains a little tremolo behind an infectious melody so wandering I’d almost call it a solo if it weren’t so slow. It’s a highlight for sure.
Overall, A Dawn to Fear is everything you’d expect from the reigning champs of the genre, and even more. With more dynamic breaks compared to the oppressiveness that gave Vertikal its distinct sound, the experience is one you can repeat over and over without fatigue setting in. It’s long, but there are very few moments I would want to cut down, nailing that balance between cohesive and varied. The best Luna yet? I think it could be.