Cult of Luna’s new EP, The Raging River, proves that the strongest metal can sometimes be forged with the least likely tools
For more than twenty years, the Swedish metal band Cult of Luna, featuring drummer Thomas Hedlund, have built a reputation as one of the heaviest acts on either side of the Atlantic, expressly by avoiding metal clichés. The group’s just-out EP, The Raging River — released on their newly created record label, Red Creek, and physically distributed by Metal Blade in North America and Season of Mist in Europe — once again proves the point.
While in its press materials Cult of Luna describes The Raging River as “a midpoint that needs to be crossed so we can finish what we started with 2019’s A Dawn to Fear,” the new release doesn’t at all sound like a stopgap measure between full-lengths as the band (and the rest of us) wait out COVID. For one thing, the six-song collection might technically be considered an EP, as in “extended-play single,” but it’s as long as many standard albums, with two tracks coming in at over eight minutes and a third, “Wave After Wave,” topping twelve. And like all of their recordings, it’s an epic affair, with churning, ultra-dramatic riffs and hoarsely shouted vocals abounding — but it’s also immaculately rendered, with sonic touches and subtle tweaks in dynamics lending the kind of movement and shade most metal bands rarely consider.
Opener “Three Bridges,” a mammoth, slow-to-midtempo waltz defined by Hedlund’s linear-type industrial-sounding beat built around the snare and toms, epitomizes Cult of Luna’s uniqueness. When the distorted guitar part drops out for a pause before the vocals kick in, Hedlund can be heard swishing the snare ominously with brushes. I don’t know about you, but I’ve not often found myself using the words waltz and brushes in a metal review.
“What I Leave Behind” sits at a similar tempo, though this time in 4/4. Hedlund frees up the beat from the tyranny of the bronze at well-chosen moments — when he’s not sloshing gloriously open hats, that is — and splatters some bouncy and bracing around-the-kit fills.
Cult of Luna realized a years-long desire on track three, “Inside of a Dream,” by bringing in former Screaming Trees vocalist Mark Lanegan, whose reading captures the song’s icy lyrics perfectly. Hedlund remains silent until the section change at 1:19, ticking a tender riveted ride cymbal and tapdancing on his snare for a few bars just to nudge the energy slightly, only to drop out as quickly as he arrived, allowing the tune to fade like taillights in the rearview.
Yet another lumbering beast of an eight-minute track, “I Remember,” finds Hedlund once again taking the road less traveled, defining his opening beat with spare hi-hat barks and what sounds like brushes overdubbing 16th and 32nd notes on the snare.
At 12:22, “Wave After Wave” closes The Raging River with big, brawny, whole-note guitar chords eliciting the terror of a nightmare at sea. But captain Hedlund is in complete control, accessing secret rhythmic maps and keeping a cool head, pulling out martial snare rolls, decidedly non-metal hi-hat patterns, and deftly conceived drum overdubs to paint a nuanced picture and hold our attention as the waters around us rage.
At every turn, Hedlund — who grew up studying classical tuned percussion and later played in wildly diverse bands like indie faves Phoenix — embraces an opportunity not to do what a typical metal drummer would do. And there’s always a huge payoff for the listener, particularly since he drums with such a deep feel.
Despite its outsider image, much metal is so hopelessly predictable, it can be tough for many people to take the genre as a whole seriously. Cult of Luna, and Thomas Hedlund, clearly relish the ongoing opportunity to repair that reputation.