Cult Of Luna - Vertikal (2013)


Time away. All bands need it. But for some, that time between albums results in losing the drive that makes their music unique, or even the desire to make music at all. Not the case for Sweden's Cult Of Luna, who in their five years since their last album, have igniting a fire that burns brighter and hotter than perhaps ever before. Their new album, "Vertikal," isn't a one dimensional effort, nor is it a complete departure from what they did before. It is, however, a showcase of what can happen when you go beyond musical theory and notes on a page, and try to construct something that is bigger than metal itself. The story alone is worth it's weight in gold. But told through the use of heavy music, it leaps off the screen, out of your speakers, and into your consciousness. It accomplishes a feat that is as rare as you could imagine; having an album actually tell the story, not just pretend to.

"A vast future city is divided between its proletariat who slave at the machines in the city’s depths and the administrators who live in palatial comfort high in the city’s towers. Freder, son of the city’s leader Joh Fredersen, is struck by the beautiful Maria when she leads a delegation of children into the upper towers. He follows her into the city depths where she stirs revolt among the workers over the conditions they exist in. Swayed by Maria, Freder implores his father to make changes. Instead, his father goes to the scientist Rotwang and gets him to build a robot double of Maria to corrupt the worker’s sympathies. Rotwang seethes over the fact that Fredersen stole his beloved Hel away from him and sees this as an opportunity for revenge. Using the robot Maria, Fredersen has her seduce the workers to rebel and bring the city smashing down."

A bizarre, futuristic intro track, simply called "The One," opens this tale of struggle and class separation. Throbbing electronic beats ring out and fade away just as quickly. But the quiet and reserved approach doesn't last long, as the first sound that comes from "I: The Weapon" is an ear piercing scream. The instrumental is both raw and refined, somehow defying the traditional production logic. One layer after another is placed onto a solid foundation of drums and crashing cymbals. It would seem that these layers are stacked almost precariously high, but with an unwavering strength and depth. Unlike other albums of this ambitious output, the use of coarse and harsh vocals doesn't mask or hide the melodic subtleties of the guitars and keyboards. It's when you focus on those tiny pieces that everything becomes all the more profound. You may find a particular attachment to the latter stages of the track, a loud but beautifully constructed instrumental that pads out a nearly ten minute run time. However, at almost twenty minutes, "Vicarious Redemption" is a lesson in the epic, and the immaculate. Building up from nothing nearly, only a light tapping drum beat and oddly plucked string, the mellow and atmospheric tone carries with it an eerie chill. It isn't until the seven minute mark before the track gets into full swing. But by pairing screaming vocals with a minimalist backing instrumental, the contrast resulting is impressive. Once again, the care with which the mix is constructed plays a key role, providing an environment that is conducive to a host of moving parts and contrasting elements.

On the flip side of the spectrum is the short and effects laden "The Sweep," carrying with it a robotic overtone that helps to further the futuristic storyline. There isn't a whole lot going on here, but the simplicity is the beauty of it all, especially the notes that are held for the final thirty seconds before fading into silence. Without hesitation, it would be easy to say that "Synchronicity" embodies some of the heaviest moments the band has ever offered, with each crushing down beat leaving a dent in your skull. The percussion work, in particular, deserves credit for creating a harnessed chaos here. The resounding thump of each kick drum, followed by combinations of snare and toms, always filling the voids with the perfect flow from one to the next. Even in the moments where things seem to be at their most basic, there are more intricate pieces at work; guitars and keyboards always adding a flourish here and there. Despite it's name, "Mute Departure" is anything but. From a space age intro, into echoed chanting and beyond, this stands as the most assertive and creative track on the album. The evolution from a story about a futuristic world, to a representation of that world is staggering, with each verse and chorus pulling you deeper into the world from which it is wrenched. After a low buzzing dominates the track, the music reenters with a vengeance. A strummed guitar melody runs head first into pained screams, all bolstered by crashing drums that could turn a world upside down.

One final interlude, the almost lullaby resembling "Disharmonia," sets up the final descent. With the ten minute "In Awe Of," the band launches into a full scale sonic war on your mind. But what starts as a bombing run, quickly evolves into something much more versatile. A progressive instrumental rises through the murky screams, with layer after layer of distortion and detail sharing a wide angle spot light. They build and fade, rise and fall, come and go seemingly at will but with a perfect cohesiveness that doesn't take anything away from the whole. And through it all, there is an underlying melody that persists from start to finish, even in the most chaotic moments. rather than continually checking the clock to see if the track is almost over, you may look in hopes that it has only just begun. But all good things must end, leaving you with one six minute journey left to take. In the most fitting way, "Passing Through" represents not only the end of the album itself, but the story. With solemn guitar tones and lightly delivered chants, this finale chooses to go out like a lamb. But it is the somber way in which it is played that will make it stand out, a summation of the battle between classes that has just taken place. As the music fades away, and one last airy chant echoes through your speakers, the final page has been turned.

So much emphasis is put on the amount of time that bands take between albums. More important that the quantity is the quality of that time away. For Cult Of Luna, five years removed from their last offering, it would seem that those 60 months were not only good ones, but creative ones. The story they have written and presented here would be worthy of a major motion picture release, a science fiction drama that provides as much a social commentary as a class struggle. In a two hour, special effects filled blockbuster, you would hear award buzz. In this hour plus album of skyscraper production and awe inspiring band dynamics, it is just as worthy of praise, if not moreso. Subtract any one piece of the puzzle, and it would no longer resonate so powerfully. That, alone, is a testament to the genius that resides here. And with a story so profound told through the use of guitars, bass, drums, keys and vocals, it would seem that "Vertikal" might be the new kind of audiobook.

9/10

Official Site - http://cultofluna.com/
Facebook - http://www.facebook.com/cultoflunamusic