Over the years, Cult of Luna have produced a stellar catalogue of albums, each with a slightly different tone and texture. From the grandiose Somewhere Along the Highway, to the more clinical Eternal Kingdom, to the elaborately intense Vertikal, they are a band who have refused to rest on their laurels, preferring instead to push their aural palette in slightly new directions with each release. A Dawn to Fear extends their focus on exploring the possibilities of repeated musical refrains and patterns, their use of volume and pace, and their acerbic relentlessness to produce a body of work which is up there with their very best.

The album begins with recent single ‘The Silent Man’, a colossal track of pent up emotions and angst. Singer Johannes Persson’s vocal is a strained holler of venom delivered over extended guitar riffs, before a pensive middle section which drops the energy down a few notches. Akin in nature to the later work of Neurosis, the opener has a haunted, melancholic quality which underlies the rage at the track’s core. The post-rock middle section seems to build forever towards a powerful crescendo, which is unleashed at full volume as the amps are turned up to 12. The dark lyrics “Rise and ride, my friend/ Together we’ll bring on the end,” establish a bleak tone which is not broken for the duration of the record.

‘Lay Your Head to Rest’ has a doom metal air to it, slowing down the riffs to build a wall of impenetrable, glorious noise with its slabs of guitar over pounding and incessantly powerful drums. The album flirts with a number of metal sub-genres, with progressive, sludge and doom to the fore as each track veers one way and another in terms of tempo and rage, all combining to create an immersive listening experience for those brave enough to dive in. At 79 minutes over a paltry 8 tracks, A Dawn to Fear never feels indulgent or excessive, merely confident. There is nothing superfluous here, everything is executed with precision and focus which perhaps belies the length of each track as they go about their business in battering the listener.

Cult of Luna are at their best when they play with atmospherics, and there are few bands as good at this than them. ‘Nightwalkers’ conjures up a feeling of a dystopic past, the image of seemingly everlasting Scandinavian dusks evoking the philosophical rhetoric of Ingmar Bergman, if only he were more angry and less intellectual in his existential enquiries. The visceral element of the production presents a band almost on the edge of their sensibilities, but there is also a sense of knowing observation of the state of things at play here. This is not merely posturing; this is heartfelt despair. ‘Nightwalkers’ is the highlight of the album and at almost 11 minutes long still somehow feels too short.

‘Lights on the Hill’ takes its sweet time to unleash merry hell. It’s the most ponderous, introspective track on the album, and also the longest at a touch over 15 minutes. The gloomy post-rock opening is reminiscent of MONO in its cinematic breadth and foreboding. It’s the perfect soundtrack to another body being uncovered in the woods in a Nordic noir. Tense and beguiling, the snail’s pace of the track stands in stark contrast to the rest of the album so it is something of a relief when the spell is broken with the crashing in of the wall of distortion and pounding drums. Like the album as a whole, it’s an intense listening experience as it guitar riffs cascade this direction and that, like fractals dispersing their intricate beauty for our delight. A cracking track.

In interviews, the band have stated that there was some degree of pressure to drop a track in order to shorten the run time of the album, but you’ll be glad they stuck to their guns as there isn’t any filler here with every track being a vital expression of a band who have perfected their art. There is a homogeneity to the tracks, but not a reliance on worn out tropes or musical tricks that stupefy the listener into a sense of knowing what will come next. At almost 80 minutes, A Dawn to Fear still feels crammed with ideas.

Cult of Luna have been pushing sonic boundaries for 20 years, yet there is an organic freshness to this album which will surprise many familiar with their work, and should capture a few new fans along the way. This isn’t an album to dip in and out of – the ordering of the tracks work well and the album requires investment from the listener which is rewarded in abundance.