Cult Of Luna

Vertikal

Written by: AP on 24/03/2013 17:31:16

Since 1998, Cult of Luna have continued to forge a name for themselves with an always-experimentalist approach to metal, dabbling early into earth-shattering doom metal on 2001's self-titled effort and 2003's "The Beyond", and then moving into a niche more closely aligned with bands like Isis and Pelican. That niche is one commonly referred to as post-metal of course, and it is firmly within such territory that the Swedish septet still resides on this sixth opus, "Vertikal".

Despite the band belonging among the absolute elite of the genre, their style has always struck me as a little too long-winding and uneventful to make a strong impression, but with "Vertikal" my perception finds itself altered. Now, this may owe at least partially to the fact that I am a recent convert into the wonders of post-rock and metal. Yet it is no small feat, what Cult of Luna have achieved here in terms of structure, dynamics and atmosphere. The record is perpetually dark; earthly in its vast, resonating soundscape, yet unforgiving and nihilistic in the moods it explores. The sensation is not unlike what you will have felt on The Psyke Project's "Dead Storm" and, more recently, Redwood Hill's "Descender" (though the influence of black metal here is quite imperceptible): it is one that sends the listener's thoughts toward barren landscapes utterly devoid of human involvement, and as such, "Vertikal" is an album best enjoyed in meditative solitude.

Track two, "I: The Weapon" is the consummate highlight of the album - a somewhat precarious notion considering its placement so early on in the tracklist - and arguably one of the best songs Cult of Luna have ever written. It hits hard with a polyrhythmic riff and Johannes Persson's coarse screams in a fashion not unlike the aforementioned Redwood Hill's "Dybbuk"; descends into a threatening gallop that grows louder with each bar and begs for a release that is cleverly delayed by an almost exruciating passage of anticipation; and then powers into one of the most monolithic crescendos you are likely to hear this year. Indeed, this is a true demonstration of musical might - and it all occurs within the space of some five minutes, leaving a remnant four minutes of song to rinse and repeat, though with no lack of fresh texture in the second iteration. Yes, "I: The Weapon" makes a strong claim at song of the year; a suffocating, yet cathartic celebration of truly epic music.

Conversely, the punishingly long "Vicarious Redemption", clocking in at nearly 19 minutes, takes an eternity to settle into an enticing song, toying with all manner of odd sounds and electronic samples for the best part of 10 minutes before unleashing a somewhat gratifying finale - too little, too late it should be said. The following "Sweep" and "Synchronicity", both of which have Cult of Luna droning around in almost industrial territory, are likewise disappointing appearances following the grandeur of "I: The Weapon" - and once you add the frankly bizarre "Disharmonia" onto the pile, the most pressing issue with "Vertikal" begins to emerge: it is frighteningly inconsistent. Cult of Luna might have done themselves a favor instead by writing a shorter album, mini-album, or an EP perhaps, which would consist of "I: The Weapon", "Mute Departure", "In Awe Of" and "Passing Through" only, because it is in towering post-metal behemoths such as these that they truly excel.

"Mute Departure" succeeds through the constant sense of threat it emits, the delicate monotony of proximate single string plucks serving warning of an impending storm; one which the band duly delivers in the latter half of the song with meticulous attention to detail, and not least tremendous power. Speaking toward the track's cleverness, Cult of Luna have opted to let it fade out around the 7-minute mark only to erupt into a maelstrom of noise once more for a final two minutes. "In Awe Of" is a more traditional sort of post-metal song, structurally reminiscent of Isis and awash with lengthy instrumental sections, with a solid speckling of Scandinavian depletion to align with the atmosphere to which "Vertikal" subscribes. "Passing Through", placed to conclude the album, is a wooing clean piece that provides exactly the right sort of winding down necessary to process the profuse amount of musical detail that you've just been subjected to.

Had "Vertikal" comprised just these four songs (with "Vicarious Redemption" as a potential joker), it would most likely have earned immense praise from yours truly. However, the oddity and placement of the remaining tracks proves to hamper the greater good much too severely to cement this as one of the best post-metal releases of recent years. Fear not, however: "Vertikal" is still a beaming example of just how ambitious the genre can be, and I guarantee it offers a plethora of opportunities for chills to run down your spine whilst your mind attempts to comprehend and categorize the amount of texture that most of the songs pack.

8

Download: I: The Weapon, Mute Departure, In Awe Of, Passing Through
For the fans of: Isis, Pelican, Redwood Hill, Rosetta
Listen: Facebook

Release date 25.01.2013
Indie Recordings

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