When it comes to innovators and trailblazers, the name Cult Of Luna may not be one which jumps to the tip of the tongue. But for more than two decades the Swedish behemoth’s have been working on their craft, making slight tweaks here and there, all the while making one hell of a noise. Look a little bit closer at the band’s history and they are among a special breed, which has collectively helped refine the genre of post-metal, influencing hundreds of artists and thus aiding the subgenre’s evolution into the fruitful state it finds itself in today.
For their ninth studio record, A Dawn To Fear, which is now rapidly approaching release, the band have stepped out of their comfort zone in order to come at the record from a different angle. “From working on [2003’s] The Beyond right up until [2016’s] Mariner we have had the same process for each record,” guitarist and vocalist Johannes Persson tells us. “We always start off with the idea of narrative or a story arc and that is our starting point.”
“We then work out how we want to go about and what we need to do to tell that story with all the music production. Whether that is artwork or videos or live production, everything has to head towards the same goal. But during this record we wanted to explore what would happen if we let our instinct dictate the natural course of the writing. It was a lot more of an experiment.”
Persson explains that this is the first time in a long period where the band hasn’t come into the recording process with a clear idea of what the intended outcome was. Instead the guitarist came to the record with fragments of ideas and, whilst writing, attempted to piece it all together to create a Cult Of Luna record.
“I thought to myself, ‘What would happen if I just sat down with my guitar and wrote without aiming for anything?’” Persson says. “I would sit down to write and write down the first sentence that comes to mind and go from there.”
“Previously we would have had the big picture that we are working towards and we would work out a path of how we would get there and piece it together. This time it was a lot more like a jigsaw. We had all the pieces but just had to work out how they all came together. Especially lyrically, there were words that initially made no sense but now they are super clear to me. We just had to figure out what these songs are telling us, and we quickly found it was all about finding home from different perspectives.”
In adopting this fresh approach, the band’s seven members decided that what would yield the best results was to live in each other’s pockets throughout the recording process. Spending eleven days at the remote Ocean Sound Recordings in Norway, Persson admits he took the opportunity not only to write music but to catch up with friends. The result was a more collaborative writing process.
“When we approached this record we worked out that every song needs its creator,” adds the guitarist. “That creator needs to fulfil their vision of what the song will be before someone else can come in and edit. There is a lot of the time where it is me, but that being said the songs never end up how I first see them in my head. Everyone in the band has their role to play and that is why we wanted to have a more collaborative working environment.”
“Luna is a product of its members, and that is one thing that was very important to us. That is why we took the decision to meet up and we lived [at Ocean Sound] for two weeks. For me, this was a very effective way for us to work and one of the best memories I have had with the band so far.”
However, the vocalist insists that working as a democracy doesn’t always work, admitting that it could sometimes lead to arguments. “During the recording of [2008’s] Eternal Kingdom there was a moment when we tried to write and work as a democracy, but it led to a number of arguments. If there was ever a moment where Cult of Luna could have broken up that was it. What we learnt from that experience is that every ship needs a captain, but every member of the band now has their role, which is something which is unwritten among us.”
With the band forming in 1998, they’ve witnessed a shift in the musical landscape, but they have not changed their perspective. What Persson finds strange, he explains, is that people consider the band as innovators, or on the flipside are only just discovering their music.
“It is odd,” he begins. “Because with Mariner we didn’t really have any expectations of it other than we had this idea of what we wanted to do for the record, and it gave us the opportunity to work with Julie [Christmas]. But if you look at the streams and plays that record is our most played so it certainly put more eyes on to us. But then you have the people who have been with us 20-plus years and see us as this ground-breaking band, and we are seen as originators when we have basically been doing music that we like.”
With the new record and a UK headline tour on the cards, it seems that Cult of Luna are set to be pushed into the next level of ascension.
However, Persson said that because the band has been sat on the album for some time, there is no worries about what comes next. “It has been ready for such a long time,” he explains. “We finished [recording] it in January and I’ve kind of got used to it being in the background as we are looking at what we are doing next. We usually need six months to trying to figure out when we are able to meet up and practice but right now, we are just wanting to enjoy where we are.”
A Dawn To Fear is out 20th September on Metal Blade Records. Purchase here.
Words: Tim Birkbeck