Cult Of Luna - Live at the
Islington Assembly Hall, 11.04.16


I had never been to this venue before and now I'm here for the second time in less than two weeks, this time to see Umeå's noisiest sons Cult Of Luna. This tour is to celebrate the tenth anniversary of their truly remarkable Somewhere Along The Highway album, which we already know will be played in full tonight. The hall is plunged into darkness as dry ice fills the air and the musicians amble onto the stage, plug in and the lush keyboard tones of The Sweep join the dry ice spilling from the lip of the stage and the band start their dark journey, taking us all along for the ride.

The short introductory piece over the gorgeous, chiming riff of Light Chaser rings out and this 14 legged killing machine hit their stride. One of my favourite Cult Of Luna songs, the staccato drum patterns from the two drummers and rhythmic riffing from the three guitarists propel the song forward while the pulsing keyboards add colour and texture. Johannes and David Johansson trade vocal blows with the "onward, forward" lyrics while stark white lights flash and swoop madly across the stage like searchlight beams, throwing the band into stark contrast. The stage is bathed in red light for Eternal Kingdom's Owlwood, a supremely heavy song that makes full use of Johannes sandpaper-raw bellow. Earthy and full of angular riffs the song passes through several wildly different sections before winding gently down.

Salvation's Echoes brings the intensity down several notches with its mellow, shimmering opening which inexorably builds as the rhythms speed up and the song gets heavier and heavier. This is as far back into their past that the band venture and is swiftly followed by the epic I: The Weapon. Hard and heavy from the start you can feel Andreas Johansson's bass through the floor while Kristian Karlsson's keyboard textures stab through the musical mayhem. And at the centre of the maelstrom is Johannes Persson, ringmaster and leader, pummelling his guitar into submission, roaring his dystopian lyrics and pulling foot-on-monitor shapes.

Next the band play a hidden gem from Salvation, Waiting For You. A song that begins gently and lulls you into a false sense of security before clobbering you firmly over the head with its throbbing cadence. It sweeps you up and carries you along in the flow, just like the anticipated flood in the lyrics has finally arrived.

And then the moment is here. The languid, fuzzy opening riff to Marching To The Heartbeats heralds the arrival of Somewhere Along The Highway. A masterpiece telling tales of isolation, loneliness and lost love in a harsh, uncaring world. For this reason it's a very dark album atmospherically, despite the huge range of musical dynamics and styles. It feels like even the quieter moments are full of regret, like looking at old faded photographs and wondering how you ended up in this place. Despair rubs shoulders with anger at the hopelessness of life as the realisation hits that you cannot change the past and the past has shaped both your present and your future. The band head off down an even darker musical alleyway and for the next hour we follow willingly, in complete thrall to this monumental piece.

Fredrik Kihlberg whispers the lyrics as the slow, measured beat leads us into the crashing, militaristic pounding drums at the beginning of Finland. The languid midsection gives the song an air of despondency before it builds again with angular riffs and a shimmering lead fighting the keyboards for supremacy. In many ways Finland typifies Cult Of Luna's music. Long and complex, constantly shifting through musical peaks and troughs, twisting this way and that, building and fading away again. Back To Chapel Town arrives on a sombre guitar squall and ear-piercing keyboards, the funerial pace gradually quickens as the musicians pound and thrash away in perfect unison.

The gossamer fragile And With Her Came The Birds sees more of Fredrik's whispered, clean vocals on this sparse death ballad with it's bluegrass/country music stylings. "Leave me here for the crows" he begs as the song bleeds gently into Thirtyfour. Before this tour this colossus has only been played live once and it must take all the band's concentration to keep everything on track and in time. Glacial and utterly mesmerising, harsh riffs coalesce into a wall of glorious noise as we continue our descent into the darkness. Cult Of Luna somehow make playing music this labyrinthine and tortuous look effortless. Bastards!

The end is unfortunately nigh as the understated Dim flows off the stage. We are treated to some lovely slide guitar from Johannes as the song spirals round and round building imperceptibly to a tumultuous climax. The delicate beginning to Dark City, Dead Man stretches out into the black. Possibly the best song Cult Of Luna have written and recorded, this is a truly fitting way to end the evening. A majestic masterpiece that wrenches at the soul with its inherent sense of loss and finality, Johannes screams out the lyrics while the band flail away around him. He is the eye of the storm as the zenith is stretched almost to breaking point as a rippling riff fights its way free of the tempest. The song ends with the couplet "I let go and fall deeper. This will be the end of me." a cathartic release as the song collapses under it's own weight.

As mentioned, lighting is minimal and entirely behind the band, leaving them eerie shadows for the most part. Johannes occasionally ventures onto the area that sticks out from the front of the stage, fixing the crowd with his intense stare while he lives and breathes every moment of every song. Every member of the band are at the top of their game tonight. Andreas, along with drummers Thomas Hedlund and Magnus Líndberg lay a down teeth-rattling base for the rest of the band to weave their magic. Kristian's keyboard textures and flourishes often add melody and lightness to the heavy compositions and the three guitarists fill in the gaps with their churning riffs and succinct leads. There is no communication with the crowd as the band concentrate on their craft - this is not a band for "Hello London, how you doing?" or other such insignificances. The music does all the talking necessary.

Special mention must go to the two support bands. Fellow Swedes, Moloken, are very good and Bossk (presumably named after the rather inept, reptilian bounty hunter from The Empire Strikes Back) are four (occasionally five) noisy herberts from my neck of the woods in Kent. They are superb and nearly succeed in blowing the headliners off stage. Almost but not quite. Wildly schizophrenic and (mostly) instrumental, they sound like Earthtone9, Converge, Amplifier, Black Sabbath, and The God Machine rolled into one. Excellent stuff.

There is no encore from Cult Of Luna. How could there be? There is no way on earth the band could follow that. With a brief thank you the band depart and the house lights are turned on. Most of the audience leave the building emotionally and physically exhausted after witnessing this stunning performance.

The Sweep / Light Chaser / Owlwood / Echoes / I: The Weapon / Waiting for You / Marching to the Heartbeats / Finland / Back to Chapel Town / And With Her Came the Birds / Thirtyfour / Dim / Dark City, Dead Man

Background photo: © Floris Looijesteijn


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