These heavy bands are increasingly showing off their cultural literacy while still bludgeoning their listeners with a heady mix of loud guitars and cavernous sounding drums, and Cult Of Luna is in some ways one of the main culprits for pushing such intellectually studious music; the band’s return with their sixth studio has been presaged with a building excitement on the part of its faithful, but perhaps the idea of another “concept” album from the Swedish behemoth is another important aspect for the non-slavering devotee that holds interest for something new from the outfit.
Vertikal is an interesting animal for two seemingly disparate reasons on the surface, but upon rectifying the idea that the album is based in large part upon the amazing silent film Metropolis by Fritz Lang with some of the new sounds that Cult Of Luna incorporate, you might get the idea that these new aural colors are a direct result of that self same film (film and science fiction aficionados surely recognize the robot from the movie); listening to songs such as “The One” (which sounds most akin to an outtake from the Blade Runner soundtrack than a Cult Of Luna song) and “The Sweep” (the heavy electronic treatments really push this song to sound very different from most other songs from the band) while even the more “traditional” sounding Cult Of Luna tracks such as “I: The Weapon” (besides being one of the strongest songs from the band period also contains this sound that could be a sound effect for the lab scenes in the movie) and “Vicarious Redemption” (another song that at times is more moody soundtrack excerpt than anything else, that is until it really kicks into gear ) and “In Awe Of” (the different noise-y parts are definitely killer) still contain the some of the sonic equivalents to the visuals from Metropolis.
From a personal perspective, Vertikal has “quietly” become part of my own Cult Of Luna trilogy (the three albums from the band that I play the most) by being requisitely powerful while simultaneously containing some excellent soaring melodies; in any case, Vertikal is an excellent new work by Cult Of Luna that echoes some of the band’s more important musical touchstones while pushing further afield with new aspects at the same time, and anyone that says different probably has moved on from enjoying this style of music.
Isis were the undisputed kings of post-metal, reaching levels of perfection with their music literally unheard of before. But even though they've been retired from the scene for a while, it's unclear whether or not there will emerge another band up to their calibre. If I can throw in my oar, I'd nominate Swedish metalheads Cult of Luna for the title of post-metal posterchildren, and as proof, their latest release, 2013's Vertikal, is only the last in a long string of incredibly successful albums.
Standing in stark opposition to the intimate warmth of their other releases like Somewhere Along the Highway or Eternal Kingdom, Vertikal is just so perfectly icy and bleak that you can't help but feel moved by it. The way the music makes you feel like an outsider, like the band is somehow removed from the listening experience itself, creates an almost paralyzing sense of distress in the listener, compelling you to continue listening just so that you can reach some kind of consoling resolution.
Despite the monstrous scope and sound of this record, the compositions are actually very straightforward. That's not to say there isn't a lot of depth (there is), but more to point out that you hear everything there is to hear on the first listen--there isn't exactly a whole lot of subtlety in the writing. That actually serves this album well; given that the theme is the dystopian future of Fritz Lang's Metropolis, the repetitious, linear song structures actually heighten the sense of mechanical precision and inhuman isolation that the original film intended to convey.
Musically, the band continues to grow more and more proficient, and they're now actively outperforming many of the acts influential to them, such as Neurosis or Pelican. Tracks like "I: The Weapon" and "In Awe Of" are just so freaking brilliant that you want to just stand up and scream along at the top of your lungs. The monstrous centrepiece of the album "Vicarious Redemption" can take a little while to grow with it's slow, meandering introduction, but the piece soon becomes flooring as you hear exactly what the band has been building to, a climax full of fast, tribal drumming and guitar-laden hemiola.
This album is huge, powerful, menacing, and strangely intriguing all at the same time. If you're looking for what will assuredly be one of the best post-metal records this year, you need to hear Vertikal.
8.5 / 10
Reviewed by 2 writers.
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