Album Review: CULT OF LUNA The Beyond (Reissue)
Originally released in 2003, The Beyond has always stood out in Cult of Luna’s discography as the most direct and immediate of their recordings. This statement may be one many of you would like to take me to task on, considering the majority of the songs are still in the neighbourhood of 7-10 minutes in length and albums that followed in its wake, like Salvation and Somewhere Along the Highway are more recognizable, regarded and well-received (read: they sold more), but there’s a certain standard of ferocity exhibited on this record, one that has been whittled away from so-called post-metal over the years.
Taking a look at what was going on at the time, it’s no wonder The Beyond sounds as inflammatory as it does. The western world was still feeling the sting of 9/11 and reeling in the subsequent reaction and response by government and authority (and, by default, corporations). And similar to Isis’ Panopticon album, which was also released in 2003, The Beyond’s theme took the then-political mood to task and focused around disgust and dissent with the establishment. Additionally, the band was still only a handful of years out from their formation after the crash and burn of Umeå-based hardcore band, Eclipse. There were still strands of members’ more direct and immediate stylistic past and an unease or uncertainty about what sonic direction the future was pointing towards. The likes of Neurosis, Godflesh and Burst – inarguably major influences – were going through their own periods of transformation and/or mid-life crises and it would be naïve to think that a then-still bunch of young'uns like Cult of Luna would be immune from noticing what their heroes were up to.
Sure, there was “Leash,” which has tendrils of gruelling hardcore/metalcore (think bands like Acme, Knut, Chokehold, Bloodlet, et al.) driving and is likely the band at its most up-tempo ever, but at the same time, the album metaphorically recognised the forest for the trees. The Beyond put the band’s penchant for the absolutely tumultuous tones and the body lurching, tribal mid-pace they continue to write at to this day in the spotlight. Swirling sound effects and keyboard washes are integrated far more efficiently and the album’s sparkling production value permits the use of sonic layers, both melodic and grating. Consonance and dissonance meet somewhere in the middle as the band’s masterful, career-long dalliance with quiet-loud dynamics gets put on powerful display.
Outside of album intro “Inside Fort Meade,” you can hear it once the starting gun goes off; from the way in which “Receiver” pummels forth in an avalanche of down picking and open chord strumming. When the move is made towards the softer side of the dynamic spectrum, the result is darker and with a meaner sensibility by Andreas Johansson’s consistently distorted bass. It might be surprising to say so, but there’s a lack of caution instilled in the 11+-minute “Genesis.” It may start mellow and subdued, but there’s a sense of unease to the clean guitars, that feeling that Johannes Persson, Magnus Lindberg and Erik Olofsson (who is no longer with the band) can’t wait to stomp on their distortion pedals and get to the thick and meaty riffs. And when they do ease up on the ominous and razing wall of sound, those spells toward the lighter side of the dynamic continuum are more eerie and not nearly as elongated as they became on records like Somewhere Along the Highway or Eternal Kingdom, and definitely not like witnessing the slow burn of their live show.
This latter element can be heard on the epic “The Watchtower” which is about as cogent as Cult of Luna has ever been, essentially bouncing between two riffs – one bright and forcefully noisy, the other elegiac, willowy and spacious – both of which are memorable and rife for the additional piling on of classical instrumentation and sampled noise. And said song has an identifiable chorus! Add it all together and there no surprise “The Watchtower” remains in the band’s live set these days.
One thing working in Cult of Luna's advantage – a positive advantage that has remained a feature of their sound to this day – is their ability to create memorable compositions in a genre that often revels in quarter-note repetition and half-step progressions that may sound tectonically immense, but often goes in one ear and out the other. On “Circle” and “Arrival,” you can hear how slight vocal deviations and huge root note jumps around scales work to generate songs that latch into one’s auditory faculties and keep the listener coming back. And once you’re sucked in, the album hits you with a suffocating lashing of powerful post-metal, before “post”’ came to flirt too closely with instrumental indie rock.
The Beyond is being reissued as part of Earache’s mining of its own back catalogue and pressing onto vinyl many albums that were only originally available on CD. Collectors can choose from basic black, as well as silver and green editions, limited to 500 and 300 respectively.