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Passing Through: Cult Of Luna, Damnation Festival And Ice Hockey

Thursday, 14 November 2013 Written by Ben Bland

Swedish post-metal giants Cult of Luna have been at the forefront of heavy music for 15 years now, from their stunning early releases to the titanic majesty of this year’s ‘Vertikal’. When I stumbled across frontman Johannes Persson backstage at Damnation Festival he was absorbed in trying to find out the ice hockey scores from a friend watching back home.

His team, IF Björkloven (which translates literally as the “Birch Leaves”), were 2-1 up, but thankfully I managed to drag him away from receiving updates for 15 minutes to quiz him on the band’s recent activities, including their new EP, ‘Vertikal II’.

You’ve recently brought out the ‘Vertikal II’ EP. I was wondering how much you see that as a necessary companion piece to the album for listeners?

When we started writing ‘Vertikal’ we hadn’t done anything for a couple of years so we had a huge number of ideas. Some went in the trash of course but, when we started recording, we were thinking about possibly making a double album, because we had so much material. Then we realised that some of the songs didn’t hold up to the quality standard that we demand of ourselves, so we started thinking about it.

We could try and push more new songs out but then it felt like we would just be doing it for the sake of doing a double album. Really, who wants to do that? Can you think of any double albums that really hold up quality wise all the way through? It’s very difficult. So we decided that we should just do one normal album and then release an EP soon after with connected songs. It was always going to be released soon after the album.

Justin’s [K. Broadrick, Jesu/Godflesh], remix wasn’t a part of the equation at that point, but our label wanted to have a remix. I hate remixes nine times out of 10 but I thought we would be easy to work with for a change! So I said them to ask Justin to do the 20 minute track, to see what he could do with it and, honestly, I love it. He’s almost made a Jesu song of it to my ears, which is why it works I think.

Did the writing process have a different feel to it this time around, given the time you had spent away from the band?

Well, we hadn’t written anything for four or five years. You have to ask yourself why you’re going to start writing again after that has happened. Why not just call it quits? When we started the process it was a case of “if we don’t do it now then we’re never going to do it”. It’s very easy to press the ‘Stop’ button but it can be quite hard to press ‘Start’ again a few years later, especially because from 1998 to 2008 we were releasing a new album every 18 months, we didn’t stop, so it felt natural for us to not be doing something for a while.

However, we decided to start and to do something new, so we thought that, as the previous two albums had a rural, countryside kind of sound to them, we would make a city album. Instead of looking backwards we decided to look into the future, but not in a cheesy industrial metal way. Our future vision is more analogue. So we were inspired by the futurists of the ‘20s, art deco; a view of the future in which the machine is seen positively.

It’s more of a hopeful view, I think, than the dystopian ‘80s outlook on things. Then there was the influence of the German expressionist movement, and Fritz Lang’s Metropolis in particular. That film is obviously very dystopian but the harshness of it was very influential upon us for certain. We set these themes as our boundaries. It’s not interesting to be told you can do anything. It’s good to work within constraints so we forced ourselves to do the songs in a certain way and to make creative decisions we wouldn’t have made or even come up with otherwise.

You make it sound as if other non-musical art forms are more influential upon Cult of Luna’s music than music itself. Is that true?

Yes I think so, especially with regards to this album. In the past, my writing has always been inspired by a whole lot of music but now I just write. I no longer write thinking that I wanted to sound like anything. I used to analyse the music I listened to, the structure, etc. I don’t have to do that anymore, so in that sense I suppose that statement is right.

It’s that boundary setting that really helps you get into the right creative zone though, so to speak?

Yes definitely. I mean, I’m two steps ahead now, so I know what I want to do on the next album, and that is useful for us. There’s a certain movement to things again, which I think is important. I’m not interested in doing the same thing twice. I think we’ve been lucky in that we’ve been able to keep evolving and improving so far in our career. Whether we are able to keep improving I don’t know.

Every band must have a dip some time I think, but I’m going to be writing for as long as I am physically able to so Cult of Luna isn’t going to be ending any time soon. I think the releases will remain more infrequent from now on though. Eighteen months is too quick a turnover whereas something like five years works well I think, creatively speaking, and, actually, from the point of view of the listener. It makes things more special.

There are so many intricacies within Cult of Luna’s sound. How does that come about? Is it the result of everyone in the band being allowed to add their own touches?

Yes, for sure. I think the most important thing about Cult of Luna actually is that very few of the members actually come from a metal background. Originally we came from a hardcore background but a lot of the people who have joined the band since then don’t even listen to any heavy music. They are totally unaware of what’s going on in the ‘post-metal’ scene or whatever. Sometimes they reel off a little bit too far from what works as Cult of Luna I think, but usually they add stuff that’s really valuable.

We’re not a jam band. We’re an ideas band. So when I bring a song to the table I know that it won’t sound the same when it’s been through the filter of everyone else in the band. Actually, I know for a fact that it is going to sound better because of what everyone else in the band can bring to it. That’s a comfort for me as a songwriter. I don’t think it would be as good if I was the one making all the decisions myself.

Would you ever consider making a record that abandoned all the metal elements from your sound?

Yes. I would totally love to do that. I love challenging myself. Christian, who has been playing keys on this tour, and I have scored a couple of short films and that was very strange. We were out of our comfort zones but it was very cool and inspiring to do that. I would love to do something different. Sometimes I have been tempted to start a solo project but I know it would end up sounding like Cult of Luna anyway. We’ll just have to wait and see what happens.

(Checks phone)

We’re still winning 2-1...What a boring game, huh?

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