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I'm not clever enough for a "Vertikal" pun - 95%

Caj1, February 11th, 2013

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.