Cult Of Luna ‘Vertikal’ CD/LP/DD 2013

Cult Of Luna 'Vertikal'I first heard of Swedish Behemoths Cult of Luna back in 2002 when they stunned my world with the immense slab of post-metal/hardcore that was ‘The Beyond’; Later I witnessed them on the supporting tour in a small and dingy club in Exeter and the intensity that baked off of the stage that night was like being witness to seismic plates shifting. Since that moment I was captivated by the 2004 follow up ‘Salvation’ and 2006’s incredible ‘Somewhere Along The Highway’, not to mention the conceptual ‘Eternal Kingdom’ in 2008. Cult of Luna have always been a band who have strived to expand the dimensions of the metal genre both in terms of sounds and the art behind it; having the ability to tease your frontal lobe and tear your face off, often at the same time.

Despite the release of the multifaceted ‘Eviga Riket’ audio visual project in 2010 it feels like a long time since the world has heard from the band as they have devoted themselves to long and intense writing periods culminating in a a final recording session in 2012. Out of these sessions comes what is arguably their finest and most cohesive piece of work to date, ‘Vertikal’.

Taking their cues from the visual imagery of Fritz Lang’s classic expressionist science fiction film ‘Metropolis’ this album feels like a soundtrack to a bleak dystopian nightmare, with its mournful sweeping atmospherics and sirens that is almost reminiscent of Vangelis’ haunting Bladerunner soundtrack.

When ‘I The Weapon’ final bursts into life it feels like business as usual with trademark scything riffing and Johannes Persson’s throaty roar replacing the almost serene buildup of the intro track ‘The One’ with an urgency that is almost smothering. At times the band invoke comparisons with a hardcore Joy Division as the harmonics are full of bleak and lofty concepts. However they have stretched their sound to the point that when the clean vocals are introduced for a call and response refrain with the usual gruff singing, the intensity of the build and release dynamics used almost threaten to crush the listener. That the 15 minute track ends on ringing gentle atmospherics is a welcome let off.

And this is the pattern for the album; ‘Vicarious Redemption’ is a sprawling epic in itself starting with melodic guitar work that builds until you could get lost in the moment, only to be yanked out of it by the barking vocal effect. At times the bands debt to early Neurosis can be heard, but not in a plagiaristic way. Much like Oakland’s finest, Cult of Luna march to the beat of their own drum and here they introduce more electronic sounds and there is almost a dub feel to the rhythm section. This track has it all, the fantastic guitar acrobatics of a sublime solo, crashing, weighty musical passages and a huge ending.

What is apparent is the scope of the music the band have written, whether it is the rasping, tortured howls of the Godflesh-esque ‘The Sweep’, the marching staccato of ‘Synchronicity’ or the downbeat ambient crawl of ‘Mute Departure’ that explodes into a ferocious beast of a track, this is an album heavy with experimental panache from artists brimming with ideas.

The strength of concept albums often lives and dies with the ability to execute that idea, some great bands have been hamstrung trying to shoe horn a theme onto their music, but here Cult of Luna explore the themes of Metropolis with it’s cold machinery, repetition and clear linear structure, both musically and thematically with skill and without ever becoming over indulgent. At times it is starkly beautiful, other times it is downright terrifying.

As the closing track ‘Passing Through’ draws to a close with the common thread of pulsing electronics running through it, the vocals are an almost clean, monk like lullaby that feels like the winding down of an age and the beckoning of rust; it’s simplicity and starkness rings long after the ‘Vertikal’ is finished.

As an album, a conceptual piece of art, this record is phenomenal, the band constantly try and raise the already high bar they have set themselves. There are few moments that could be isolated and played on the radio to any great effect, but that is not what Cult of Luna are about, five long years since their last studio album they have produced a tour de force that stands shoulder to shoulder with their best work.

Label: Indie Recordings

Scribed by: Mark Hunt-Bryden