Live Review: Cult of Luna – O2 Ritz, Manchester
19th October 2023
Support: Slow Crush, GGGOLDDD
Words: Dan Barnes
Photos: Bill Mawdsley
En route to curating their own Beyond the Redshift festival, Swedish Post Metal progenitors, Cult of Luna have taken an unorthodox road to London, by way of Bristol, Glasgow and Manchester. For it is here, on the eve of Redshift that I find myself, back at the Ritz for another impressive three-band-bill.
Last week it was Priests, Killers and Witches, this week it’s an altogether different prospect, though no less mouth-watering.
Kicking off the show is local(ish) band, via Belgium, Slow Crush, whose version of shoegaze is to take turns killing with kindness, while also unleashing an abrasive storm when the situation demands. The songs from the recent album, 2021’s Hush, are the most emotional wrought, with Reve revelling in the sorrow, Hush hiding an aggressive rumble while Swoon lets bassist and singer Isa Holliday lay down some grooving lines. Tunes from the debut record, Aurora, make up the bulk of the eight-song set, demonstrating the band’s versatility to break either your heart or your nose. “Get ready to dance” calls Isa before set-closer, Glow, which is fast and funky and warms us up nicely for the beating to come.
Neighbours of sorts, GGGOLDDD from Holland, is a quiet different performance, as vocalist, Milena Eva takes a position at the centre of the stage and the show is constructed around her presence there. The music is experimental post rock, in the vein of AA Williams and Emma Ruth Rundle, but with an even deeper melancholy. Less than a week after the release of the band’s PTSD EP, we are treated to the whole thing, including new versions of opener, He is Not, originally from the Why Aren’t You Laughing? album, which she Milena creating shapes with her arms, like the head of the hydra. Silence has the sort of proto-industrial feel of Skynd, mixed with the lilting simplicity of All About Eve; Spring come over like latter-day Nine Inch Nails and I Won’t Let You Down is like a torch song, loaded with atmosphere.
It is a compelling performance though which you find yourself transfixed on Milena, whose studied movements and mesmerising vocals draws you into a place where time has no meaning. I Let My Hair Grow seems like a trivial title for a song, yet a comment before On You brings the Ritz to a stunned silence and gives context to the subject of the performance. Between these, is Notes on How I Trust, flavoured with middle eastern promise, the pin-point choreography sees the slightest moment perfectly synching with musical motifs.
Both support bands played their parts in making the build-up the tonight’s headliner a compelling wait, but Umea’s noisiest sons is who we’ve come to see and as the light’s dim and the stage is blasted from behind with harsh white light, the first bars of Beyond II fill the speakers.
Cult of Luna are not ones to give quarter and the set is made for maximum musical immersion. Opening with a Kaiju-introducing stomp, Cold Burn acts as tonight’s manifesto. The retina-searing lights and ear-splitting volume lay bare Cult of Luna’s intention to bombard the senses. The dual drums ofThomas Hedlund and Christian Augustin give the foundation of the band’s sound a weight few others can muster; Andreas Johansson’s bass is crucial is binding the percussion to the guitars and electronics of the top end.
Nightwalkers shows Cult of Luna aren’t only about an assault on the consciousness and, for the beginning at least, offer some early respite. The Silver Arc contains an oasis of calm that comes as sweet relief for the moment, but with each cycling of the riff there is a ferocity growing and, like being in the eye of a storm, you know there is only one way out, once more through the maelstrom.
Cult of Luna stay fairly recent in their choice of songs for this show, dipping deeper into the past for I: The Weapon and In Awe Of from 2013’s Vertikal and back to Somewhere Along the Highway for Finland. Sitting central to the show is A Dawn to Fear’s Lights on the Hill, the fifteen-minute epic, that takes all that is good about Cult of Luna and distils it into a single, multi-phased, multi-layered trip of towering heights and crushing lows. Fog fills the stage, rendering the sextet little more than shades in the mist, lending an even more hypnotic and transformative aspect to the performance.
Guitarist Fredrik Kihlberg takes lead vocal on Beyond I as the show winds down to close with Blood Upon Stone. Even after the monumental barrage of the previous ninety minutes, there is no blunting of the cutting edge, and the band is as devastatingly heavy as they were when they started.
Cult of Luna don’t venture to these parts often enough, in my opinion, but when they do they unleash a devastating performance. Last time, at Sound Control – don’t look for it, it isn’t there anymore – they celebrated the tenth anniversary of Somewhere Along the Highway, but that was in 2016. Hopefully, it won’t be another seven years till they pass through Manchester again.