LIVE: Cult Of Luna / Brutus / A.A. Williams @ Stylus, Leeds

By Liam Knowles

Swedish experimental post-metallers Cult Of Luna returned to the spotlight this year with the release of ‘A Dawn To Fear’, a spectacular record that contains some of the best work in their repertoire. It’s a bit of a mixed bag of light and dark, quiet and loud, and everything in-between, so it’s only fitting that tonight’s touring lineup reflects that. First up is A.A. Williams and her band, delivering a masterclass in considered, emotional songwriting. Every note counts as she paces from a hushed whisper to a soaring yet melancholy vocal, all whilst creating melodic clouds of delay and reverb with her guitar or playing haunting piano passages, backed by an obscenely tight rhythm section. A.A. Williams maybe isn’t the sort of artist you’d expect to see opening for a band like Cult Of Luna, but even your most hardened metalhead would struggle to not be moved by tracks like ‘Melt’ and ‘Control’.

Speaking of moving, Belgian noise-punk trio Brutus are up next, and they open with ‘War’ which is easily one of the most powerful songs released by anyone in 2019. Drummer/vocalist Stefanie Mannaerts’ glistening voice fills the room as the song gradually builds to a peak where you would perhaps expect a typical post-rock style crescendo, but instead you get a violent left-turn made up of thrashy hardcore punk rhythms and an alternation of palm-muted riffs and drenching delay. All these elements then coalesce into a pulsing, anthemic ending that leaves the crowd utterly bewildered, but they have no time to recover as there’s barely a second’s delay before they burst into ‘Cemetery’. Brutus are such a unique and unusual band, it’s easy to see why they keep getting opportunities like this and they’ve more than proven that they’re ready to step out of the support slot, becoming a headliner to be reckoned with. Show me a band at this level with a better set ender than ‘Sugar Dragon’ and I’ll show you a liar. It’s you, you’re the liar.

Mixed bills are pretty much always great, but this lineup has worked out especially well for Cult Of Luna, because after two support acts with purely clean vocals and minimalist arrangements, tonight’s headliners sound even heavier than they usually do, which is a frankly ridiculous feat. The seven members of the band create an intimidating presence on stage, with the smoke and intense light show turning them into glowing, thrashing silhouettes. Sonically, Cult Of Luna are a force of nature, boasting a three-guitar / two full drum kits setup, as well as bass, vocals and pulsing electronics. There aren’t many bands, if any, that sound as BIG as Cult Of Luna whilst also maintaining the nuanced and intricate song craft they’ve become synonymous with.

The band opens with ‘The Silent Man’, the first track from ‘A Dawn To Fear’, and from the reaction to this it’s clear that the album has already worked its way into the hearts of their fanbase. The churning riffs and pummelling percussion sound monstrous, and Johannes Persson’s colossal roar rings relentlessly around the venue. This most recent album material makes up more than half the set, with ‘The Fall’ ending proceedings the same way it does on the record, and of all their material it’s hard to think of a more perfect closer. The set is broken up nicely in the middle by ‘And With Her Came The Birds’, which is a sort of swampy Americana number, before they returned to decimating the crowd with the epic ‘Lights On The Hill’. We’re also treated to a few older cuts like ‘Passing Through’, ‘In Awe Of’ and ‘Finland’, which all sound just as fresh and relevant as the most recent material.

Cult Of Luna played nine songs at this show, and the selection process for that must have been absolutely hellish. When you’ve been around for 20 years and never released a bad record, how do you pick nine songs? There will have been people in the room who would have happily stood for another hour or two, and that’s testament to Cult Of Luna’s careful approach to quality, as well as the sheer talent contained within their ranks. Long may they continue to write nines and melt minds.