Cult Of Luna are a septet from Sweden, who are known worldwide yet have a, dare I say it, cult-like following – not one of the first names you think of in post/doom metal, but definitely one of the most praised and respected in the genres. Generally slow-paced, the band never depend solely on their tempo and grumbling guitar tones alone, often bringing in the softer and ambient influences of post-rock into the mix.
So “Vertikal” is the follow-up to 2008’s mighty “Eternal Kingdom”, and is the first album without vocalist Klas Rydberg – however, this loss has definitely not broken Cult Of Luna by any means. “Vertikal” is a concept album (unlike the set-up for the press during “Eternal Kingdom”) and is based on Fritz Lang’s dystopian science fiction Metropolis, released in 1927, while the Weimar Republic was still in in power in post-WWI Germany. Although the film plot is far too detailed to talk about here, Metropolis focused on class differences and distance, featuring an industrial city suffering under a ruler obsessed with wealth.
So you can imagine with this theme in the members’ minds during the creation of this album that we can expect Cult Of Luna to darken their sound… which is exactly what they did. However, electronic influences appear more prominent than ever, contributing to both atmospheric and industrial sounds during parts of this album. There’s also less of the post-metal vibe here, and perhaps more of a progressive sludge sound – yes, the Isis and Mouth Of An Architect comparisons can still be made at times, but a Neurosis influence is far more obvious throughout the album.
The opening track The One is simply an ambient/electronic intro, starting with dull, echoed thuds before a throbbing drone accompanied by soft keys, rising and falling, join in the digital soundscape. Then I: The Weapon starts with roared vocals and mid-paced juttering guitars – the sound that is easily identified as Cult Of Luna’s signature sound. This continues for a while until the guitars fade away a bit, leaving the drums and bass pound along with synthy keys. The band plays with tension slightly, before hopping into a light groove. The electronics keep interjecting at moments, alternating with growling drone lines, the very proggy Isis keys or just a clean keyboard sound. It’s lovely.
Next is the longest track on the album at just under a staggering 19-minutes. Vicarious Redemption is an epic (in the true sense of the word) journey – going through more sections and changes than you care to count. The track opens with a haunting ambient drone while some percussion slips into it; this very sound is enough to send chills down your spine. This atmosphere proceeds to linger for the first 4-minutes or so, before morphing into a lighter tone when soft, reverbed guitars come in, creating the post-rock vibe. It then returns shortly to the darkness before, sludgier guitars coming in sparingly, almost as if Neurosis themselves are jamming with Luna.
This continues for the majority of the song, except for one spectacular moment just over the 11-minute mark that just jumps on you with no warning: ELECTRONIC WOBS. People may very well link it to dubstep (it’s inescapable these days), but it’s so dark and seething (and there’s no “drop” or anything like that). It’s just a wobbling bassline… and it sounds incredibly evil, especially as the vocals roar in some sort of warp. Then the rest of the band kicks back in, and continues as before, but still reminding you of that incredible moment you never saw coming.
The Sweep opens with zappy synths that sounds like something you’d expect from a nu-wave band; this might sound terrible in writing, but it’s actually pulled off well. The track features little to no of the whole band – at least to the point where it’s pretty hard recognise any guitars if there is any. The fifth track, Synchronicity, has a big Godflesh vibe to it with the ringing guitar and the mechanical-sounding drums, as well as injections of background effects and industrial quips – and that’s basically it.
Mute Departure takes a more standard Cult Of Luna approach but after the band has listened to Celtic Frost’s A Dying God Coming Into Human Flesh a hundred times. It has the similar creeping, mournful guitars backed by a haunting piano as tribal-sounding drums pound in the background. Eventually the explosion of the band comes, but finishes pretty quickly, falling into a mellower section, and then returning to the same style as the “explosion” part. It is perhaps the most obvious track on the album, but it’s still really enjoyable.
Disharmonia is basically 45-second ambient interlude, very much along the lines of something you’d expect from Nine Inch Nails’ “Ghosts I-IV”; which brings the only complaint that this interlude could have been stretched a little longer, because it’s so soothing and lulls you. But perhaps this is meant to bring you into a false sense of security as In Awe Of suddenly interrupts with low chugging guitars, as louder layers are added quickly. You get these glittering echoed guitars at parts with the rhythm rolling onwards slowly, as well as some big luscious feedback play accompanied by electronics. The vocals are pretty sparse too, making it much easier to lose yourself in the whole thing.
Then we arrive at the last track Passing Through, which starts with the almost lazily picked guitars as clean vocals intertwine, with lines like “All is quiet, empty streets / All is quiet, the city sleeps / Close my eyes, on my knees / And time’s passing me by”; soon followed with twinkling glockenspiel. The atmosphere is just so heavy yet sounds so simple and innocent at the same time. Another guitar and the keyboard joins in, ever so subtly (and bringing a slight Isis feel again), as the vocals simple “ahhh” distantly to the end. A completely fulfilling and enlightening way to close the album.
It’s safe to say that Cult Of Luna have opened 2013 with an undeniable metal titan of an album; while showing no fear to experiment with their sound and to blur the boundaries. “Vertikal” will challenge any long standing Cult Of Luna fan, but not in an excluding way, but more as an eye-opener. The introduction or furthering of influences are far from offensive or distasteful: this is as smooth a change in sound as a slow bend is in a river.
There’s also one thing that’s to be said and that is the vocals are far better on this album than ever before, just sounding stronger and not so strained/raspy. The vocals are definitely an improvement here, and with the electronic influence, they make “Vertikal” a far more enjoyable album to sit through from beginning to end, which has personally been a problem with some previous releases. If you’re a Cult Of Luna fan, then this album should be no problem for you… it may just well be their best.
Favourite tracks: Vicarious Redemption, Passing Through, I: The Weapon.
Review by Rich Reviewz
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