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.