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Here Flows My Blood: Cult of Luna on Returning Home with 'The Raging River'

Thursday, 04 February 2021 Written by Matt Mills

Photo: Silvia Grav

“I think that a lot of musicians are trying to live up to the image that other people have of them—that stage persona. I don’t have that need.”

Interviewing Johannes Persson is a refreshingly laid-back experience. Normally this kind of promotional conversation is steeped in formality and regimentation. You’re given an allotted slot and, over a strictly fixed length of time, can end up chatting about the same old things: new music, who your influences are, where your band name came from.

The Cult of Luna frontman has no patience for that rock ‘n’ roll industry bullshit. He makes no bones about being five minutes late to our Skype call because he was teaching his son how to play Donkey Kong Country. And, throughout most of our talk, his cat perches patiently on his lap.

“It’s not a problem for us, separating some kind of stage persona from who we really are,” he continues. “We’re not a huge band and we don’t have a big, important image connected to us. But I have subconsciously changed my Instagram account because of who’s following me, so maybe that’s falling into that trap. If I managed that account like I managed my life I’d only post funny memes.”

Johannes’s distaste for the monotony of industry-mandated press tours has been noted. It struck an apotheosis when, while promoting the band’s fifth album ‘Eternal Kingdom’ in 2008, Cult of Luna decided to start making stuff up. They concocted an elaborate backstory about how their lyrics were based on the diary of an asylum inmate who’d murdered his wife. It apparently contained fantasies of a land of human-animal hybrids, ruled by an evil owl king, that descended into civil war.

Of the dozens of interviewers they span this yarn to, only one didn’t believe them. “We were just bored of doing the same thing over and over again,” Johannes rationalises. “We talked about how important it is to have a story to tell. We always have a story to tell, but we pretty much just put one on steroids and went all-in.”

Thankfully, Cult of Luna’s new EP, ‘The Raging River’, has a story all its own—one that doesn’t need to be imbued with the silliness of anthropomorphised creatures or ruthless monarchies. An extension of 2019’s ‘A Dawn to Fear’, its five songs are reworkings of ideas that weren’t ready to make the cut on that 80-minute opus. 

As a result it continues the overarching theme of that prior album: the concept of returning home. Johannes was born and raised in Umeå, a small city in the north of Sweden. It was there he became deeply invested in the realms of metal and hardcore punk, before co-founding Cult of Luna in the late 1990s. As the band flourished he moved to Oslo in 2006, then Gothenburg, and settled in Stockholm in 2008.

“I was only in Stockholm to work,” he says. “The attitude in Stockholm, I noticed, was that Sweden starts and ends with the Stockholm city walls. You laugh at that idea when you live there, but then you realise that is the attitude there: Stockholm and Sweden are equivalent words. People living in rural areas are frowned upon.”

Nonetheless, Johannes stayed. He got married and started a family, but when his wife gave birth for the second time in 2015—during the pre-production of Cult of Luna’s ‘Mariner’—he says he felt his priorities shift. Although it would take another five years for him to return to Umeå, psychologically, he claims he was already there. It was this emotion that dictated the lyricism of ‘A Dawn to Fear’.

“We moved back last summer, so we had 12 years in the city,” he says. “I like a lot of people there, but it was never my city. It wasn’t a place where I wanted my children to grow up. It was obvious I needed to move, and I needed to be closer to family.”

‘The Raging River’ brims with odes to Umeå. Its title is a reference to the Ume river, which runs through the heart of the city, and lead single Three Bridges draws from the trio of bridges that cross it. “Here flows my blood,” Johannes belts in his searing, gravel-gargling growls. “This is my home.”

The EP again pummels the listener with Cult of Luna’s ever-maturing strain of post-metal. Dreamy guitar leads and dark synths are cast against the intimidating shadow of sludgy aggression, with grooves and breakdowns always persistent. Three Bridges’ final chorus explodes from silence in one of the band’s most climactic moments ever; What I Leave Behind places Johannes’s roars over isolated bass and drums, stripping the soundscape back to the most visceral of expressions. Meanwhile, Wave After Wave lets the percussion take the lead against the drone of ringing guitar notes.

Bisecting the otherwise intense EP is Inside of a Dream, an ambient post-rock interlude with serene vocals from singer-songwriter Mark Lanegan. The segue may be brief, but it indulges a dream Johannes has had for more than 14 years, since he wrote And with Her Came the Birds as “The Lanegan Song”.

“It was a fantasy,” Johannes says of tapping the celebrated solo artist. “We were kids, not literally but mentally. We didn’t have the confidence and we didn’t even contemplate how to get a hold of him. It wasn’t bound to reality in any shape or form. But with time comes confidence, and we know more people in the industry now. Things that might have felt impossible back then feel so much more possible now.”

Lanegan’s cameo seals a seething collection that blends nostalgia with forward-thinking post-metal. It’s a throwback handled in the classiest way, sacrificing none of its edge to explore decades-old landscapes and inspirations. That is, unless Johannes is making stuff up again… 

‘The Raging River’ is out on February 5 via Red Creek.

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