Saturday, November 3, 2012

Cult of Luna - Somewhere Along the Highway (2006)

Cult of Luna had been building towards something great since their first two albums, which weren’t amazing but were better than a lot of the post-metal bands that get trotted out as exemplars of the genre.  All of their good ideas finally came together in Salvation, and, in a way, the brilliance of that album set up their failure in Somewhere Along the Highway.  

While Salvation was an excellent amalgam of the hardcore leanings of the first two albums and the brooding intensity of Neurosis, Somewhere Along the Highway just feels like a perfunctory follow up to a great album.  It has a lot of the elements that made their earlier work so successful, but it falls flat and feels unpolished.  It’s missing the je ne sais quoi that separates great albums from the rest, but, despite all of my harsh words here, it’s not offensively bad; it’s just mediocre.  

Somewhere Along the Highway frequently commits the unforgivable sin, something that is almost endemic to the genre (and really shouldn’t be); it is boring.  Cult of Luna again creates long, far-reaching ambient soundscapes interspersed with moments of heaviness, but the two aspects of the music don’t blend or exist on any type of continuum as they did on previous albums; the heavier passages don’t interact well with the slower sections, and the whole album feels incoherent and wasteful as a result.  Somewhere Along the Highway doesn’t really get going until well into “Finland,” the second track, and when it does finally build up momentum, it’s too little too late.  

There are some good bits here, even if it does not work as a coherent album as well as it should.  “And With Her Came the Birds,” for instance, is a slower track with a southern bent that wouldn’t feel out of place on a Cobalt or Murder by Death album.  It features twangy guitar and low pitched, almost whispered clean vocals.  It’s not what I want to listen to when I reach for a Cult of Luna album, but it’s moody and well done, as is a good portion of the following song, “Thirtyfour.”

“Thirtyfour” opens with a single, effective riff and builds off of it, as most good Cult of Luna songs do.  This track comes the closest on the album to capturing the magic of previous albums.  The heavy guitars and almost hypnotic drumming coalesce with the more free form passages to provide the perfect example of what this album should have sounded like and perhaps could have sounded like if it had just been given a bit more time for improvement.  Likewise, there are moments of brilliance in “Dark City Dead Man,” the closer.

This is certainly not a bad album, but given the strength of previous releases, it should have been a hell of a lot better.  For the uninitiated, this would be an excellent first Cult of Luna album.  It shows off a glimpse of what makes the band worth listening to, and it can be followed up with The Beyond or Salvation without making Somewhere Along the Highway look insignificant in comparison.

Verdict: Indifference [6.5/10]

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