Since their inception, Cult Of Luna have steadily released an album or EP every couple of years; culminating in this year’s heavy weight concept album ‘Vertikal‘. Built around Fritz Lang’s sic-fi classic ‘Metropolis’, their return from a five year absence was a towering colossus of atmosphere and thematic variation that saw the hardcore band expand on their previously abrasive sound to incorporate elements of Dub and ambient electronics. In addition to the increasing light and shade added to the dimensions of Cult Of Luna‘s sound, they also explored the film themes of cold linear structures which evoked chilling, unblinking, rational machinery, the death of humanity and a bleak, inevitability of the relentless passage of time.
It was a phenomenal, draining and rewarding piece of music that could have honestly left the band happy in the knowledge that they could take at least the next two years to rest on their laurels and pat themselves on the back with a job well done. However, clearly inspired and eager to make up for the 5 year wait between ‘Vertikal‘ and the previous album ‘Eternal Kingdom’, the band have unveiled’ Vertikal II’, a companion EP to January’s album, which Cult Of Luna‘s press release heralds as ‘the end of an era’.
As a fan you can speculate on the cryptic nature of that message; the band themselves have stretched and manipulated their sound since the eponymous debut was released 12 years ago, evolving from the raw, visceral hardcore to the complex and multifaceted layers of sound that confronted listeners on ‘Vertikal‘. It has been a long and varied journey but with the introduction of elements of dub and ambient electronics, shackled to ideas of linear structure and progressive leanings, it could be that the next Cult Of Luna release is a very different beast indeed.
So to the music, ‘Vertikal II’ despite being four tracks long still clocks in longer than most punk albums, longer than Reign In Blood and very much continues further down the path started down by the album proper as throbbing, pulsing noises give way to echoing guitar delays and dub laced metronomic drums evoke a cold, alien, clinical atmosphere that has more in common with the shoe gaze of Mogwai than the savagery of Neurosis.
On ‘Oro’ this sound is augmented by vocals that are wispy and twisted by reverb, like the mourning for a lost time. Like much of the album before it ‘Vertikal II’ is a stark and haunting listen at times, almost like a robotic Leonard Cohen that sucks you in to the claustrophobic confines of it’s structure and then shatters this tranquillity with the intense sound of the band escaping the measured rigidity with heavy passages and sandpaper raw vocals overlaid and twisted with strange sounds wrought from effects and guitar.
There is a real sense of development as the EP runs it’s course with synth sounds and drone influences that were only hinted at way back in 2002 on the likes of ‘Inside Fort Meade’ that now find their home amongst looping sampled drums, ambient yet at times unsettling eerie noises and electronic themes; as a further sign to the potential direction the band may take in the future the prominence of the elements could be a clear indicator that the next Cult Of Luna release may see them take yet further strides away from their original sound.
Those fearing that they will abandon their roots completely should take comfort that even in their most considered and light moments the band have kept traces of their roots and each piece builds from the thematic mood into something more visceral and organic, as on second track ‘Light Chaser’, keeping a tangible foothold in their origins.
The final original addition to ‘Vertikal II’, Shun the Mask, is a microcosm of the original album; here Vangelis like hums and synths combine and wash over the listener before combining into a muscular collision of melody. There is progression from the serene to barked vocals and a progressive metal edge, the sense of linear movement gaining momentum. This is in turn augmented by a beautiful instrumental passage with deft guitar flourishes and accents, breaking into the trademark heavy crunch and mutating into a sublime finish of guitar crescendos and impassioned vocals. Even the most stoic of fans should be impressed with the sheer scope of craft that has gone into this track and beckons you on a journey that asks you to put your trust in their vision.
The final track on the EP is Godflesh mastermind Justin Broadrick’s take on Verkital track ‘Vicarious Redemption’. The most noticeable thing first off is that it cuts the tracks running time nearly in half, making it a more accessible 9 and a half minutes long. Throughout the track Broadrick takes the emerging dub and electronica and elevates them to the forefront of the track almost reminiscent of his Palesketcher and Jesu projects with it’s bleak take on the more ambient elements present in the original. In some ways it makes the track stand alone more, but strips it of the full range of emotions the full 17 minute long album version does, not to mention the heavier moments, but in this context (and bearing in mind the hinted closing of an era) the track is a perfect distillation of the ideas that bridge the gap between ‘Vertikal’ and ‘Vertikal II’.
‘Vertikal II’ itself feels like the closing of a chapter, whether intentional or not, Cult Of Luna have spent their career breaking out of the confines of the genre that spawned them; challenging and pushing themselves further and further in their exploration of music as a craft. If this is to be the end of an era then surely it is the beginning of a new one? Make no mistake, this is a very different beast to the raging of old, this work bears more resemblance to the works of the guest remixer but, as always, with their own unique take.
Scribed by: Mark Hunt-Bryden