It’s difficult to know where to start when reviewing a Cult of Luna album. Let’s begin by giving it some context. It’s been 4 years since “Eternal Kingdom”, a faux concept album which the band alleged was based around the diary of a mental patient they had uncovered in the studio. No such diary or concept existed. This time around we are led to believe that “Vertikal” is inspired by Fritz Lang’s masterpiece of German expressionist cinema, “Metropolis”.
The usual Luna arsenal is on show. Brutal, crushing guitar, bass and drums pummel the listener into near-submission. Shouted post-hardcore vocals finish the job. Synths and samples lend a sophistication not found in their post-metal peers. In keeping with Metropolis’s nightmarish technological sci-fi theme it is these electronic elements which mark “Vertikal’s” progression from previous albums.
‘The One’ features a synth lead over its industrial throbs and siren-like disharmony. The melody is a twisted dystopian twin of Kraftwerk’s “Autobahn”. If you’re familiar with the iconic awakening of the female robot Maria in Lang’s film then this is its aural equivalent – industrial yet gothic, a machine-age equivalent of Shelley’s “Frankenstein” giving unnatural life to his creation.
With the brooding ambience set, ‘I: The Weapon’ explodes from the speakers. As heavy as anything on “Eternal Kingdom”, it spits in the face of those who query the use of synthesizers in ‘metal’. Fat keyboard solos and undulating bass pulses add to its dark atmosphere. Distorted and delayed piano chords punctuate the outro and segue into the monster that is ‘Vicarious Redemption’. A 17 minute tour-de-force, the track evolves from dark ambient textures into a brooding malevolent beast that will leave you drained by the end but asking for more punishment. Cult of Luna are eager to oblige.
‘Mute Departure’ and ‘In Awe Of’ are as heavy as anything this band has recorded yet they have moments of absolute beauty. This album will take you on an emotional trip. One minute it recalls the bleak yet ethereal wall of noise of My Bloody Valentine and early Cocteau Twins, the next it is inflicting head trauma with its blunt force. Electronica interludes such as ‘The Sweep’ and the Aphex Twin bleeping of ‘Disharmonia’ provide scant relief, instead immersing the listener deeper into Vertikal’s techno-fear.
With this album Cult of Luna have managed to create a new sound, aligned to the concept, while keeping the post-metal aesthetic for which they are renowned and revered. To manage this takes a level of creativity and confidence that only great bands can achieve.