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The last time having paid attention to Cult Of Luna was hearing their sophomore 2003 album, ‘The Beyond’.
To those unfamiliar, the Swedish band play a form of post-hardcore that recalls the intensity of Neurosis and the textures of Isis.
On ‘Vertikal’, Cult Of Luna retain nuances of those rough edges, their polished aggression having something in common with American hardcore act Tragedy, Swedish crust band Disfear, and even more recent Killing Joke.
Of course, the musical narrative is more grandiose and elongated, throwing in hints of electronica and post-rock textures that were similarly explored by Isis on ‘Panopticon’.
Sadly, despite being full of promise, ‘Vertikal’ falls short in some areas, lacking a certain ‘bite’ that makes it pale in comparison to their earlier work and of course, essentials such as ‘Enemy Of The Sun’ and ‘Oceanic’. Where the musical pallete has diversified, the expressiveness has been curtailed.
Additionally, whilst the production is crisp and full of clarity, it sterilizes the aesthetic rather than enhances it. On previous work, a more grainy and muddy distortion was present, but has succumbed to a more filtered, compressed studio treatment.
The arrangement of songs and their layout here seems also quite confused, and the influences, whilst they might certainly indicate a ‘broad-mindedness’ that scores originality points, makes ‘Vertikal’ often a directionless listen.
‘Vicarious Redemption’ for instance, at 19 minutes in length, works with post-rock sublety and crescendo, yet with contrast with the heavy riffs that accompany it, seems unfitting, killing off what could have been a great momentum. It gives the impression that if they had concentrated on one type of mood rather than overemphasized amplitude and dynamics, that the ideas at hand would have paid off better.
A rare exception where things really come together is the song ‘In Awe Of’, where the electronics are prominent, but not overstated. Rather than dealing with the ‘soft-hard, gentle-heavy’ dynamic that fails on ‘Vicarious Redemption’, what few good moments there are on ‘Vertikal’ seem to work better when the contrasts are streamlined and played in accordance with one another.
Whilst an increase in subtlety may be welcome, this filtering out of aggression makes Cult Of Luna’s new work more indulgent than it is an exploration, and comes across as if it’s utterly failing to make any point artistically.
I'm not clever enough or willing to expend the energy to think of a funny pun on the title of this album, but that's not really a big deal. What is a big deal is what this band has done in the five years since they last dropped an album, 2008's diamond in the rough "Eternal Kingdom." Even with the loss of longtime vocalist Klas Rydberg (who I miss, but not too terribly, since guitarists Johannes Persson and Fredrik Kihlberg do a fine job on their own, and this ensemble, even when down a member, seem to be able to make metal not just interesting again, but (dare I say it) artistic.
This album is based on a concept of linear structure and mechanized routine from a 1927 film called "Metropolis," and it shows in the music, sometimes more overtly than others. The album is filled with lovely soundscapes, whether they be crushing heaviness (such as in the single "I: The Weapon" as well as "Synchronicity" and "Mute Departure") or beautiful electronic passages (like in opening track "The One" or "The Sweep"). The centerpiece of the album, the almost nineteen minute long "Vicarious Redemption" blends all of these together into one cohesive track, and one often doesn't realize that such an amount of time has passed once the song ends. It really feels that fresh and engaging.
This band's emphasis, however, isn't simply on brutal licks or sweet little musical breathers. It's instead focused on the creation of moods, atmospheres, and soundscapes (there's that word again), really giving teeth to the genre tag "atmospheric sludge." The beginning of "Vicarious Redemption" feels like you're entering a bleak, mechanical landscape where nothing natural remains; it's tense and foreboding, and exactly what this band has set out to create. "Synchronicity" feels like hammers beating into the back of your skull... in a good kind of way, I promise. Even the mellow end track "Passing Through" evokes an atmosphere, though it is less like mechanical heartbeats and hammers and much more organic, almost beautiful in its melancholy. In fact, this album rarely breaks from a melancholy mood, and when it does, it breaks into heaviness. In a sense it's not metal because it's fast or loud or heavy (it is loud and heavy, but not particularly fast). It's metal because of the moods and feelings it evokes. In ways it's reminiscent of middle period Neurosis before they went all artsy and boring. "Vicarious Redemption," for example, captures a lot of the same feelings that "Through Silver in Blood" did nearly twenty years ago, without ever feeling like a bunch of Neurosis/Isis worshipers mindlessly aping their idols.
Enough of me masturbating about how much I love this album. Let's talk about the more concrete aspects, like the way it's played and produced. These guys have never sounded better. They crafted a very excellent ensemble on Salvation, and still sound as tightly-knit as they ever did. The guitars of Fredrik, Johannes and Erik Olofsson are fuzzy and loud without ever being annoying or buzzy, the bass, courtesy of Andreas Johansson is great and creative and audibly anchors the band, while keeping that heavy low-end rumble ever present, and Thomas Hedlund's drums are a lot of fun to listen to, with plenty of excellent passages and fills that keep rhythm without getting boring. Anders Teglund's keys and samples help evoke a lot of great feelings in the music, and are more of an underlying sound, less overt than the guitars/bass/drums, and there are a lot of great moments from Magnus Lindberg's percussion section, like "Vicarious Redemption" and "Synchronicity." The production sounds crisp and alive without being soulless and airtight like the digital medium can often present itself.
Overall, this album is an improvement upon every single thing this band has done, including my beloved "Salvation." Five years felt like a long time at first, but any great piece of art takes a lot of time to get just right. The only thing I have to say is that I'm glad they took the time to do just that.
Much anticipation was going on in the air as to when Cult Of Luna would return to present us with a new work. Their absence for nearly five years led most fanatics of the atmospheric and post-rock infused school of sludge metal into a state of hunger for a new musical fix. Being included in that group I then felt an overwhelming joy filling my heart and mind when Vertikal was announced. A sugary interview unravelled part of the album’s mystery, a concept album based on a classic movie that has an industrial dystopia for a background. As charming as the concept seemed on paper it did leave me pretty much unprepared for the radical shift in sound presented by this album, one that shows a different use of sound layers and presents some unusual techniques not akin to the band’s earlier roster. Industrial sounds of driving machinery, grey monotone landscapes that paint an image as abstract as the cover art, and even some electronic moments that should raise some eyebrows, all are now very present in the renewed mixture of sonic layers that compose this album. And it is a challenging experience indeed.
The weirdness in presentation is pretty stark and evident when analysing the number of actual songs, which amounts to five long tracks intertwined with several interludes and a final cut that serves more as an extended outro than anything else. The different stylistic composition appears from the moment the intro, “The One”, opens the album and further demonstrates this newfound tendency of electronic abuse, slowly and gently unleashing a beat that not farther after unravels a cinematic entrance into a bleak desolate city. “I: The Weapon” suddenly appears with a vocal trade off and weird distortion pedals being used on the guitars, followed closely by modulated vocals and boomy synths. As simplistic as the song may seem at first it does unravel much more than it apparently has, constantly twisting and turning for new dynamics that envelop you in a hazy coat of mist as the city is yours to roam freely. Structured like an emotional roller coaster, the song keeps going from climax to climax without any apparent build up, always maintaining a cohesive sense of tension. The airy break by the fifth minute is such a beauty, and it leads perfectly into a feeling of closure that introduces the next piece.
I could easily write this whole review based on how absolutely amazing “Vicarious Redemption” is. I admit to have been initially sceptic about its apparently overlong size, clocking in at a staggering 19 minutes of length. But then I simply couldn’t avoid getting lost in its five minute long initial repetition of beats and lightly struck chords that bring along this feeling of walking down a deserted assembly line of a decaying factory. Suddenly there’s respite beyond the choking smoke of the furnace, a temporary moment of hope that lets you breathe some fresh air before pummelling you down with this massive riff by the seventh minute, alongside the memory of all the laborious souls that perished there. Tension keeps building up as the machinal feeding ritual arrives to devour you, passing through a long conveyor belt that takes several minutes to unleash the dubstep break by the eleventh minute, an awkward moment that is rapidly tossed away for the most amazing guitar trade off that rises in a frenetic two minute long crescendo. But lo and behold as it ends and the sense of tension is again retained and weaved beautifully for another five minutes of blissful anger, proving that as cold as it may seem at first this album is also very humane and warm blooded.
And with that already half of the album has flown by, leaving the middle part of the story to be recounted through two major songs that are bordered by uneventful interludes in “The Sweep” and “Disharmonia”. This is definitely the weakest part of the album since only one out of two songs is really good, that being “Mute Departure”. I’m not trying to imply though that “Synchronicity” is a bad song, it’s just that it leaves me stone cold as it inhabits this sort of negative space to which I can’t really relate to within the band’s universe. It has again a curious use of airy synths and guitar layers, but I find much more interest in the follow-up, with its immersive keyboard driven beginning that relies on industrial beats. An angel’s voice suddenly appears, caressing your face with sweet lullabies as the world crumbles around you, leaving you in an ecstatic trance before you fall down with it. This song is emotionally crushing in every sense, being also the highest cathartic point of the album, and I have to say that it’s certainly one of the best songs of the band’s entire career. Ridden with atmospheric escapades and precise drumming, it bites you with ravenous fury at the lashing out of each abrupt vocal passage, releasing all the weight on your shoulders along with it. Shortly afterwards the album reaches its closing segment. “In Awe Of”, the only song present sharing riffing similarities with earlier works of the band, brings along a sense of apparent comfort, as if heralding quieter times that arrive in the lulling of your senses that is the soothing end unleashed by “Passing Through”.
As shocking as it may seem Cult Of Luna managed to stay fresh, and dare I say original, after a long recording absence. The time spent away from the scene and apart from each other has been kind and gracious, and it certainly brought a renewed sense of identity that was brilliantly transposed into the nihilistic sonic escapade that is Vertikal. Whereas other albums were always very emotional, this one dangles between feelings of inner coldness and a more humane warmth. In a way it feels like you’re constantly left balancing between the harsh mechanical life of today and the solace of feeling, the sentiment of actually being human. The not so strong middle part of the album averts it from being a masterpiece, but there’s such an immense degree of quality to be found within its remainder that it’s hard not to love Vertikal. Cult Of Luna certainly took a leap of faith into something radically different with this album, and I, for one, find the end result a marvel to revel upon.
Originally written for Me Gusta Reviews. www.megustareviews.com
Cult of Luna is a heavy metal band from Umeå, Sweden. When I say "heavy metal" band, I mean far from ordinary "heavy metal". The band mixes a variety of genres and styles together into a sound and musical direction unique unto itself. Their genre mix includes atmospheric sludge, progressive metal, and post-hardcore. Their instrumental makeup further adds to the uniqueness of this band, which includes guitar, bass, drums, vocals, samples, synthesizers, and a trumpet! CoL (Cult of Luna) brings to the New Year, an excellent album full of superb songs, crystal clear production, and drumming to make the best of drummers mouths water.
The musical compositions contained within this album are one of kind. Each song conveys a different mood, a different feeling, a different idea. No two songs sound alike; each one bringing something truly unique to the table. I particularly loved the influence of European house music in Vicarious Redemption or the full circle song structure of Synchronicity, or the tasteful use of synthesizer in The Sweep. At a more in depth look, Vicarious Redemption breaks from a heavy, distorted assault and drives head on into a synth driven house style section. After a small, tasteful use of synth, the band begins to build upon the riff before driving back into a heavy, distorted ending. Synchronicity is another amazing track because it starts and ends in the same vein. The song begins with one guitar chord strummed in a 4/4 pattern. The guitar pattern begins to grow more elaborate, and the band follows the build of the complexity. Finally, at songs end, the band fades to nothing, the guitar stands alone, and the elaborate riff fades back to nothing. Finally, The Sweep beings with a beautiful synth introduction. During the middle of the song, just when the listener begins to feel the synth has gone on too long, the band roars into a heavy melodic passage and it ends, setting up a beautiful introduction to Synchronicity. Each song showcases something new, and something great. CoL definitely understands that sludge metal can become repetitive and bland, and they step further and further away from those two words as the album progresses.
The production on this album is another element that makes it stand out to the listener. One can hear everything in the mix, and it can be heard crystal clear! The synth is present, but not overbearing. The drums are huge, but do not dominate the mix. The vocals are superbly recorded and the right amount of reverb, and other various effects, is used very tastefully to achieve a desired effect. The guitars are huge and heavy, but sit comfortably amongst the rest of the instrumentation. The samples are present, but not obnoxiously present, or overbearing. The production showcases every song, every member, every sample, and every nuance in CoL's unique sound.
Finally, the drum work on this album is phenomenal. What seems complex and "too busy" at times is exactly what particular songs call for. For example, give a serious listen to the song Synchronicity. The opening drum work is a particular section to note. At first listen, it seems erratic, almost wrong, but as the song progresses; the drumming fits the music around it (and continues to build with the other instruments throughout the song). Thomas Hedlund does all the right things to bring out the best in each song. A truly great drummer with extremely diverse musicality!
I very much enjoyed Vertikal by Cult of Luna. The musical compositions were exquisite, the production was everything, and more, and the drum work was particularly enjoyable to listen to! I have come to hold this band in very high regard. Isis and Neurosis high regard, to be exact. If a band can stand on the same playing field as Isis and Neurosis, then the band is a true gem. Atmospheric and progressive sludge tend to cater to many Isis and Neurosis "wanna-be" bands, yet Cult of Luna offer a completely different take on the genre Isis and Neurosis pioneered. I highly recommend purchasing this album. Your senses will thank you for this delightful treat!