It’s well below freezing in Highbury.
Perfect weather, then, for the icy post-metal of Swedish septet Cult of Luna, who brave the snow to put on a blistering set to a packed out Garage.
First up, though, it’s Humanfly [6.5/10] from equally iced-over Leeds, who treat the bundled-up crowd to a four-song set of screaming, proggy rock. Fiercely rifftastic and sounding, oddly, like Tom Morello jamming with King Crimson at times, they’re somewhat robbed of impact by their short set time and a sound (as in, from the desk not the band) that hasn’t quite settled yet. Definitely ones to check out when they get the chance to flex their musical muscles a bit more, though, and I’ll be giving their new album ‘Awesome Science’ a few spins on release. If you prefer the ‘prog’ side of ‘prog metal’, they’re definitely worth a sniff!
The lights all go off for the arrival of Belgium’s AmenRa [8/10], replaced by a projector that bathes the stage in flickering, monochrome images of roiling clouds, ominous forests and running water. The drummer and a single guitarist emerge and begin sheeting out churning, tar-thick slabs of noise into the crowd, who are quickly caught up in the audio battering they are braced to receive. The rest of the band arrives, and from there it’s tortured build-up upon tortured build-up, reaching peaks of feedback-drenched crescendo before plunging down into blackened valleys of sludgetastic riffs that bludgeon your ears into submission.
AmenRa owe a heavy debt to Neurosis (who signed them to Neurot Records, Scott Kelly also lending his distinctive tones to the final track of their newest record ‘Mass V’), but it’s not an imitation, more an extrapolation of the absolute darkness at the core of the godfathers of post-metal intensity, but they touch on early (‘Mosquito Control’-era) ISIS, and even on the more restrained aspects of Converge and Botch (particularly vocally). On stage they let their music do the talking for them; indeed, vocalist Colin H van Eeckhout keeps his back to the audience for pretty much the whole set, effectively putting a barrier between himself and the captive audience, as he undulates and pulses along with the music.
It’s powerful stuff, and a perfect support act for the main event.
Smoke creates a thick blanket over the stage as the peerless Cult of Luna emerge, looming from the mist like ghosts. The seven-headed beast that is the Swedish band (three guitars, a bassist, a keyboardist and two drummers are crammed onto the Garage’s not particularly massive stage) launch into a cut – ‘The One’ from imminent new album ‘Vertikal’ before running through an hour-and-a-half of ludicrously technical, ferociously icy post-metal brilliance that touches on each album in their decade-long career. Johannes Persson’s distinctive roar is as powerful as ever, and fed through a filter that distorts and mechanizes it (used sparingly, and to great effect), it becomes almost gutwrenchingly inhuman.
Cult of Luna have long been masters of the quiet/loud dynamic, capable of dropping everything down to a crystalline, delicate cadence that twinkled like ice in the beard of a polar explorer, before plunging you into an avalanche of tumbling, primal riffs, abrasive screams and punishing percussion. The two drummers play off of each other, creating elaborate drum patterns, and at points, overlapping cymbal hits in such a way as to assault your senses with a wall of sheer propulsive noise.
It’s practically a religious experience.
Barely visible through the smoke and lights, Cult of Luna are silhouettes, (like AmenRa before them) letting their music do the talking – a scintillating ‘Ghost Trail’ from Eternal Kingdom, with its cyclic, angular leadwork, a captivating ‘Finland’ from ‘Somewhere Along the Highway’ – banging their entire bodies in unison as they smash down the sonic mountains they’ve carefully sculpted like the wrath of angry, heathen gods, lit in blues and burnt oranges, pinioned for seconds in violent strobes. They coil and roll, commanding attention with every note.
Eventually, all good things come to an end, though… and boy, do they end on a high tonight.
‘In Awe Of’ (from the new LP, ‘Vertikal’) may be the best song CoL have ever written, and then some; it’s a perfect encapsulation of everything they do well, and by god is it heavy. As the entire band contort around their instruments, filling the room with riffs and banging heads, you could well imagine this being the sound of the apocalypse distilled and forced through amps and speakers. There’s a moment of stunned silence when they finish, before the crowd (me included) erupts in cheers and clapping, grateful to have survived an extraordinary journey through brutal, yet exhilarating, territory.
I stumble out into the chill Highbury air, and turn to my mate, a Cult of Luna virgin. “How was that for you?” I ask… he just stares at me blankly for a minute, then can only offer me a “…yeah” and a shake of his head, completely blown away by the show we’ve just seen. What a band. What a gig. What a way to start 2013. [9.5/10]
Not from the same show, but from the Glasgow show a few days previous, ‘In Awe Of’ in all its glory:
[tabgroup][tab title=”Track Listing”]
- The One
- I: The Weapon
- Ghost Trail
- Mute Departure
- Vicarious Redemption
- Passing Through
- In Awe Of
[/tab][tab title=”Band Members”]
- Johannes Persson – Guitar/Vox
- Erik Olofsson – Guitar/Vox
- Frederik Kihlberg – Guitar/Vox
- Andreas Johansson – Bass Guitar
- Anders Teglund – Keyboards/Samples
- Thomas Hedlund – Drums
- Magnus Lindberg – Percussion