Somewhere Along the Highway is the fourth full length album by the Swedish Post Metal band Cult of Luna. It is perhaps one of the heaviest, brutal, and most emotional albums I have ever listened to. The album was recorded in a small shack in the Swedish mountains and the production is rawer than usual. The music switches between the emptiness of the recording shed, and the deep crushing claustrophobia of the feedback bouncing upon the wooden walls. It was inspired somewhat by the J. M. Coetzee novel Life & Times of Micheal K which examines the base livelihood of man; his loneliness and joys.
I had never heard anything quite like this album when I first listened to it and it very much changed my life. It still remains one of my favorite albums.
It started when we moved house. We moved a small distance down the road to invest some savings which my dad had received since my grandma's death. The new house was larger but in a bad state when we moved in. My parents wanted a project - something they could focus on and think about outside of work. The new house was what it was going to be.
I loved my old house, and was sad to leave it. In the old house I had a large south facing bedroom at the front, with windows that stretching up to the ceiling and a emerald green carpet that spread across the wooden floor. At about 3PM, on arrival home from school, the sun would flood through the large windows and spread orange rectangles across my floor, lighting the whole room. It reminded me of being on holiday in Spain or France, with the red roof tiles and pale slabs of stone baking in the sun. The room had so many happy memories - sleepovers, friends round, playing with Lego as a kid. And after, when friends came around less often, sitting peacefully on my computer, absorbed in my world, smothered by sunlight and happiness. Everything about that room, that house, spoke of comfort, familiarity and home.
When we finally ended up moving, my parents started work on the new house almost immediately. The family who had lived there before had been going through a long, long divorce. There was a bad atmosphere you could feel in the fabric of the house. Nothing had been cleaned, no work had been done, nothing had been fixed. The stalemate of the divorcing parents had brought the house into a state of limbo. For refurbishments my parents decided that everything had to be redone - every room was to be redecorated. It was going to take over a year and we'd have to be constantly moving around the house into different rooms to sleep. The builders came regularly at 6 or 7 AM with their drills and saws to work on the house. Every morning I had the same awakening of a screaming power tool.
At the same time all of this was going on I had decided something in my head which at first seemed fairly inconsequential. I had decided to start again on my philosophy. I had de-subscribe from all my existing philosophies and started again. The feeling was that I didn't want to be an idealist. I didn't want to be a socialist, a feminist, a Marxist. I didn't want to sacrifice any truth I felt for the strength or group membership and association. I wanted to be free to believe what I truly believed, and based upon the justifications which I have seen and felt in my own life. I wanted to do it myself, not just pick the tastiest looking item from a set menu.
Perhaps that doesn't sound like a big deal. Certainly the decision felt natural and effortless at the time - but talk to anyone who has studied philosophy and seen all of their beliefs slowly torn down in front of their eyes. It is hard to talk about specific instances where it knocks you down because that isn't how it works. It is unsettling, like someone has taken the glasses from your eyes. The image of the world which was once so clear (even if it may have been distorted) is now blurred. Each event, instance and object take an amount of energy to focus on, and everything shuffles to find its place in the big picture. Moving your arms becomes uncertain; choosing your words. It isn't just about changing your opinion after watching the 6 O clock news.
All of my friends at that time, including my best friend, had coupled up. Or I tell a little lie. All my friends other than me and another girl. I struggled not to fall for this girl. I knew her feelings from the look on her face and it was embarrassing. It was lonely. I'm was and always have been a strong person, and I knew about love, what I was feeling and why, so I was not confused. But I had to filter this everyday barrage of insecurity toward something. Some people might have chosen pride, happiness, identity, sanity - but I chose loneliness. I had few options. My identity and comfort had already been drained by the process of moving house, and sanity, would perhaps have been a bit over-dramatic.
And so I sunk and fell, for a year, two, waiting for it to be over. I was deeply depressed. I cried a lot. At parties, in my room, after school, before bed. I had no true way of dealing with what I was feeling other than continuing down that hole with no bottom.
One night there I sitting in the box room in this foreign house, a mattress and sleeping bag on the floor. I was hunched over my computer browsing the internet. And more or less out of the blue I downloaded Somewhere Along the Highway by Cult of Luna and I sat down on the mattress and put it on.
Within the first few minutes I knew things had changed. I cried all the way through the album - though all 64 minutes. Something I've never done before, since, or expect to do again. I had never heard anything like it before. Nothing with such brutal passion, such raw expression of emotion. It had none of the reserves or pretenses of folk and the singer-songwriter. No induced emotion or nostalgia of soppy piano pop. There was none of the faux-inspiration of post rock. It asked nothing of you other than to absorb, recall and feel. Every chord progression, every piece of resonating static and feedback, every turn of phrase and emotion simply seemed to so explicitly expressed how I was feeling, how I had been feeling over the last year, in all of its dirtiness. In those 64 minutes I felt like every one of my experiences from the last year had been retold. But also this time retold with an extra element - the crumbling sorrow I had been soaking up; resolved against expressing.
Once the album was over I played it all the way through again. It sounds odd to retell but at the time I simply couldn't believe that this thing was something I owned, that I could play at any time. I couldn't believe that what just happened was not just a one-off life changing experience and I had to prove it to myself.
It was like I had been falling for so long and finally I was hitting the atmosphere, feeling the wind rip at my clothes, and my voice was back in my ears. I hadn't touched the ground, but I could see it, and I could see the sun coming over the horizon, and the pure spacial blackness I'd left above me.
And so I sat in that little box room on my mattress looking into the wooden paneled floor. I was tired, worn out beyond belief. But for once I felt tired in relief. I wasn't suddenly happy. That would take a few years more. I wasn't ready to leave that glass bell jar without more help but something loud was beating on the sides. Having my emotions screamed back at me had reminded me why I was waiting, restlessly patient. What all those tears were for. Someone had made contact. I was sweating, emotional and alive.