Cult of Luna – Vertikal

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Review by Jason Guest

Indie Recordings

The influence of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis is far-reaching; its critique of modernity in all its indifferent glory has been the subject of analysis and debate since it first appeared in 1927. Visually as well as thematically, it’s inspiration can be seen in such movies as Bladerunner, A Clockwork Orange, Batman, and Dredd among many others. Musicians too have taken its themes as inspiration for their own creative output, the most recent being Italy’s Melencolia Estatica for their 2012 album, Hel. (Ed: Jason’s review is here and his interview with Climaxia on how the movie inspired the album is here). And five years after their last album, 2008’s Eternal Kingdom, Swedish post-metal entourage Cult of Luna have turned to that epic movie for the inspiration for their sixth album, Vertikal.

The influence of Metropolis on cinema is immediately apparent in the two-minute opener ‘The One’, this ambient piece evoking Vangelis’ Bladerunner soundtrack. This other-worldly atmosphere, disconcerting and enigmatic, gives way to the nine-minute ‘I: The Weapon’, a track that is dense and panoramic, followed by the sprawling nineteen-minutes of ‘Vicarious Redemption’. Like their riffs, the tones and timbres of the instrumentation are vast as the melodies and the might reach ever further across the cityscape, the very slow burning ‘Vicarious Redemption’ evincing the struggle between the dominant ideology of indifference embodied in the architecture of a bleak capitalist society and the individual’s desire for recognition and validation of their existence. At a modest three minutes, standing between the two mighty pillars of ‘Vicarious Redemption’ and the monolithic ‘Synchronicity’ is the predominantly instrumental ‘The Sweep’. A barren wasteland of futility, the sparse lyrics scored into its apathetic emptiness, this contrast well with the dark simplicity of the near-silent forty-five seconds of ‘Disharmonia’ that sits timidly between the complexities of ‘Mute Departure’ and the thumping might of ‘In Awe Of’. This is where Cult of Luna’s strength of vision becomes more apparent. By juxtaposing the tall, the mighty, and the powerful with the small, the weakened and the powerless, the torn vocals compounded by the hazy atmospherics and the fist-clenching riffs capture the severity of existential angst. And nowhere is this better felt than in ‘Passing Through’ that brings the album to a close by subjecting the listener to the profundities of isolation and alienation amid the calm, indifferent emptiness at the heart of Metropolis’s critique.

A deceptively simple album, on the surface this may appear to be a straight forward narrative but its depths are where its riches are to be found. Moving across the full spectrum of the band’s musical achievements, Cult of Luna have combined their strengths to produce a remarkable album. One of its striking aspects is the disappearance of the musicians into the music; no one member shines above another as all have become one, a gestalt manifest in Vertikal’s refined and bleakly uplifting compositions. Vertikal’s victory is the curious satisfaction of knowing that there is nothing else out there. All that remains is a civilisation as indifferent to its inhabitants as nature is to its demise at humanity’s hands. Robust and unmoving, the towering edifices of social control and the cold calculation of the concrete jungle’s maze of unending streets of the movie are embedded into every riff, every rhythm, its structures, and its potent delivery. Darkly ominous and overwhelming in its grandeur, the kind of album that you devote your time to in order to savour in all its magnitude, Vertikal is a phenomenal return from a phenomenal band.

Cult of Luna – Vertikal

9 out of 10

Track Listing:

  1. The One
  2. I: The Weapon
  3. Vicarious Redemption
  4. The Sweep
  5. Synchronicity
  6. Mute Departure
  7. Disharmonia
  8. In Awe Of
  9. Passing Through