“Owlwood” hits like any Cult of Luna song; they vary the riffs and tempo enough to keep things interesting while making sure the heavy moments are oppressive and bleak and the slower moments offer moments of pause and reflection. The best quality of Cult of Luna is their ability to offer slower and softer passage that do not become boring, and this quality is on full display in the opener. The melody is constantly evolving and staying interesting, even during the slower portions of the song, of which there are a few.
The second track is “Eternal Kingdom,” which opens with a brooding riff the guitar and bass share until eventually diverging into an occasionally dissonant harmony. If any track can be called repetitive on the album, this is it, but despite not varying the tempo or the melody throughout the first 100 seconds of the song, the vocals carry it along nicely until the song transforms into something a bit more frantic. In fact, the tempo changes are frequent after the opening segment of the song, and the fast/slow/fast dynamic manages to keep things interesting.
The third song, “Ghost Trail,” is one of the standout tracks on the album. At almost 12 minutes long, “Ghost Trail” comprises about a fifth of the album’s run time, and it takes advantage of every second of its run time. Unlike “Eternal Kingdom,” which works largely based on the band’s ability to go from heavy to soft and loud to slow, “Ghost Trail’ is like a series of two long crescendos, peaking a bit after six minutes in and then again at the end. It is the type of song that leaves you exhausted, and it’s nice Cult of Luna provides a brief instrumental interlude before getting back to the heavier stuff with “Mire Deep.”
Though the first half of the album feels a bit stronger, the second half, which I count as “Mire Deep” and everything after it, does not lose much momentum either. They combine the elements that make “Ghost Trail” such a success a second time in “Curse,” which is only about half the length of “Ghost Trail” but may be the heaviest and most frenetic song on the album. The album closer, “Following Betulas,” is also excellent and closes with synthesized horns and militaristic drumming, which is just weird enough to be a perfect fit.
Eternal Kingdom is an album I wish I could apologize to for not trusting it to be good. I was underwhelmed by Somewhere Along the Highway, but Eternal Kingdom feels like the final draft of something that was rushed out the door in Somewhere Along the Highway; it is polished, varied, and interesting. While it may not be Cult of Luna’s finest hour, fans of the genre have no excuse not to pick this one up.
Verdict: Win [8/10]