Cult of Luna
Vertikal

Raze the neon towers and huddled tenements of futuristic cityscapes – from Blade Runner to The Dark Knight Rises – and you’ll find Metropolis as their foundation. Released as a silent film in 1927, it’s echoed through our collective sci-fi imagination ever since. C3PO, the Macintosh 1984 commercial, the laboratory of Dr. Frankenstein, the artificial hands of various James Bond villains, the sunken city of Rapture in BioShock – all have come, in some way, from that clockwork dystopia or its tortured denizens. Yet aside from Giorgio Moroder and Freddie Mercury‘s re-imagining of the score in 1984, there haven’t been many sonic interpretations of the film. (And no, that Dream Theater song on Images and Words doesn’t have much relation beyond the title.)

Enter Sweden’s Cult of Luna, whose progressive post-metal/sludge sound is the ideal musical analog for the film’s harsh expressionist palette and its themes of oppression, revolt, catharsis and tragedy. The band’s heavy/light ebb and flow is rendered here with a bright, gleaming coldness that I haven’t heard from them since the alien drone of 2004’s Salvation. Previous album Eternal Kingdom had a rustic and weathered twang, but that’s now replaced by influences from early 80s synth/cinema like Vangelis, John Carpenter or Tangerine Dream. You’ll hear that frozen loveliness in “The One” and its reprise “The Sweep” – like rays of starlight on an apocalyptic horizon – or in the sci-fi warble that vibrates through the center of the lumbering “Synchronicity” and the bleak, dirge-like “Mute Departure.”

While these embellishments amplify Vertikal’s atmosphere of futuristic misery, it’s Cult of Luna’s well-honed sense of dynamics and flow that really make this a captivating and hypnotic journey. Tracks like “I: The Weapon” or my album favorite “In Awe Of” start as massive juggernauts, with echoing shouts like working-class chants manning a labyrinth of blastpits. Each then drifts into a complex jangle of tones and thrums that vibrate with eerily beautiful melody. Vertikal’s best moments sound like a first-person fly-through the heart of an epic mechanical technopolis. Down in its depths, every cog and every piston rumbles, twists and churns with ceaseless efficiency, kept oiled by the blood of its workers and lit by the glow of a thousand furnaces.

You won’t find easy thrills or quick catharsis here, yet it’s explosive and overwhelming all the same. 18-minute centerpiece “Vicarious Redemption” makes this abundantly clear – it takes its time luring you into a lulled and dreamlike state before it brings the sledgehammer down. The smart and elegant addition of those 80s synths and Blade Runner aesthetic was already a plus in my book, but I really love how Cult of Luna has eschewed the usual industrial bells and whistles in Vertikal. No hissing pistons or clanking metal, no mechanized vocals, no flittering blips and beeps. Instead, the band has taken their angular and singular approach to metal and crafted the loveliest of cacophonies, and like Metropolis’ haunting golden automatrix, it’s at once mechanical and organic.

Yes, it’s only January, but Vertikal is already an early favorite for my 2013 year-end list, and I think it’s also the band’s most complete and compelling album to date.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Jordan Itkowitz
January 29th, 2013

Comments

  1. Commented by: jon from nj

    Great review. While it’s still early in my listening, I will say this definitely trumps their last album, which I think had some great tracks, but wasn’t the collective whole that Something Along the Highway was. I can’t wait to delve even further into this, but I can say that the 18 minute epic is worth every minute of listening time.


  2. Commented by: Broaden City

    …jumped to the ‘Eternal Kingdom’ review – crikey.

    Agree with all your sentiments here Gaba. Really dug this on the first listen.
    Nothing will top ‘Something Along The Highway’ for me, and whilst I enjoyed ‘Eternal Kingdom’, that album took a few listens for me to come around.

    ‘Vertikal’ is quite the accomplishment.


  3. Commented by: bast

    Good review, can´t wait to recieve this, aside from that agree with jon from nj and Broaden City


  4. Commented by: Guilliame

    Your review is artful and thoughtful. You managed to tie in images of Metropolis, the sounds of Tangerine Dream, and the blasting light and dark COL tendencies into a review that left me no choice but to buy this.
    Yes, i am a fan of Cult of Luna but your review was a piece of work.


  5. Commented by: gabaghoul

    thanks for the compliments, guys! I fucking love this album


  6. Commented by: Storm King

    While the king of misguided reviews here will always be the notorious “salsa” review of Gorod’s Transcendence EP-that review of Eternal Kingdom comes in a close second. Crikey indeed.

    Gave this a listen last night on Spotify, and it is flat out amazing. It does manage to give off an industrial dystopia aura without resorting to the cliches of pistons clanking and other machinery, and the 80s synths, which really SHOULDN’T work, manage to tie the whole thing together. Amazing album.


  7. Commented by: gabaghoul

    that salsa review got replaced…


  8. Commented by: Storm King

    Oh, I know it was replaced, but since it was the worst review I’ve ever read, even years later I’ve never forgotten it.


  9. Commented by: Broaden City

    …haha Storm King – t’was a shocker that one


  10. Commented by: Luke_22

    Curiously enough Cult of Luna have passed me by over the years. But I recently got into Eternal Kingdom so I’ll definitely check this out. Great review.


  11. Commented by: jk666

    Listened to this last night and was totally blown away by it. Words like bleak, epic, darkness, grandeur all come to mind.


Leave a Reply

Privacy notice: When you submit a comment, your creditentials, message and IP address will be logged. A cookie will also be created on your browser with your chosen name and email, so that you do not need to type them again to post a new comment. All post and details will also go through an automatic spam check via Akismet's servers and need to be manually approved (so don't wonder about the delay). We purge our logs from your meta-data at frequent intervals.

  • Thanatos - Violent Death Rituals
  • Alestorm - Curse of the Crystal Coconut
  • Forgotten Tomb - Nihilistic Estrangement
  • Nôidva - Windseller EP
  • Master Boot Record - Floppy Disk Overdrive
  • Kryptamok - Verisaarna
  • Dark Forest - Oak, Ash & Thorn
  • Naglfar - Cerekloth
  • Dawnwalker - Crestfallen EP
  • Mnemocide - Feeding the Vultures
  • Necrowretch - The Ones From Hell
  • Skam - Sounds of Disease
  • Asenblut - Die Wilde Jagd
  • Katatonia - City Burials
  • Engutturalment Cephaloslamectomy - Glam Not Slam