Review: Cult of Luna - Vertikal

Almost halfway through the slowly expanding and intensifying Vicarious Redemption - the focal point of Vertikal, the Umean band's sixth studio outing - Cult of Luna break into a wobbling, initially perplexing bassline. Anyone not familiar with the ever disputed Post-Metal scene will wonder what this is doing on an album of this nature and while it may be a valid concern to most, it isn't to Cult of Luna. The genre-defying nature of this short but incredible segment can be traced back to the godfathers of the genre, Neurosis. On their 1996 magnum opus Through Silver in Blood, the cataclysmic Purify is complimented with wondrous use of bagpipes that overwhelm the tribal drumming and bring the track to a hearty climax. On Vicarious Redemption, this daring dub (for lack of a better word) is a stark realization of cognitive dissonance in between the lengthy buildup and the masterful dissipation - Vertikal thrives on the challenging idea of amplification and eventual mollification and even though it's a formidable record, it's all the better for it.

Even on I: The Weapon, Cult of Luna weave out of the density of the chugging and growled vocals and into their sombre and more melodic textured playing with the same sheer brilliance of Neurosis. Compared to the follower, I: The Weapon does little in the way of subtlety and finesse - other than the instrumental finesse of this group of musicians - but it captures the imagination all the same. Vicarious Redemption is bigger, more ambitious and that wobbling bass is little more than thirty seconds of this near nineteen-minute behemoth. 

For almost 6 minutes, the drumming alone builds up this looming, foreboding atmosphere - the vocals fall perfectly on top of the instrumentation, and the lyrics echo the onset of dissonance: "Celestial reign denied. Our worlds collide. Loathing parallel perceptions". This is a Metal record and Cult of Luna never forget that. The cacophonous opening eleven minutes are followed by almost a whole two minutes of soloing, sharply and intricately executed, no doubt. The intro more than covers enough of the song and, like masters of their craft, the Swedish outfit realize this and keep the outro short and sweet.

On The Sweep it's hard not to be reminded of Blade Runner's opening few seconds. As the explosions reverberate around the soundscape, bringing to mind that Los Angeles sky, Vertikal paints a Sci-Fi world within itself, adding an essential depth of presence that the best Progressive Metal bands often do on their albums. What's more is that these bridging tracks often seem longer than they actually are, while the longer songs fly by. Surely a sign that they're doing something right.

Mute Departure's trumpet calls are pulled straight out of the end times, creating a sense of panic and doom before the track erupts into the heaviest moments of the entire record and possibly the heaviest vocals you will hear all year. Bands like Intronaut seem to have turned in the direction of using their screams as accessories to their cleans, but it's the other way around here and it wouldn't work any other way. In Awe Of, aptly titled, features a remarkable riff which expands, again, into a sprawling intermediate before discharging into the last truly sporadic moments of the record. Cult of Luna once again interchange their many ideas and do so expertly, ensuring that they aren't lost in their own grandiosity. Synths make their way into the arena of thoughts, reaffirming that Sci-Fi ambience, as the track closes off the last heavy moments of the record. Closing track Passing Through is a subdued endgame, its strings vibrating in a Middle-Eastern glamour as the clean, temporal vocals get buried underneath them: "All is quiet, empty streets. All is quiet, the city sleeps". It's a haunting and ultimately fulfilling closer.

Don't expect all this to hit you straight away, though. It's an oft challenging record and it requires patience more than anything. Cult of Luna here have created possibly the best work in their brilliantly consistent discography and there are few negatives to take away in the end. The musicianship is expert but the fantastic ideas are the real draws. It's a shame, then, that even within a subgenre of Metal that is noted for its progressive nature, there are listeners who will take issue with the use of electronics - the wubs are brilliant, but they're a mere speck on this dystopian microcosm.


Wednesday, 20 March 2013

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