The era of the epic-length, post-metal bands is more than at its apex. It’s gotten a little out of control. Where before you had a few bands doing this kind of thing, leaving you plenty of breathing room, the scene is now flooded with groups trying the same thing. Not every band can do this right. In fact, the ones that do are few and far between.
In times like these, when the saturation level is out of control, it’s nice to get a visit from one of the bands that paved the way for these groups so they could show everyone how it’s done—all over again. We’re not going to hear from ISIS any time soon, but we did get a hulking new record from Neurosis last year that put everything in perspective and the pretenders back in their places. Now, several months later, Swedish titans Cult of Luna finally have returned with “Vertikal,” their first release since 2008’s “Eternal Kingdom” and a much welcomed return from this thought-provoking, adventurous act that are one of the finest post-metal acts going. Sorry again for the annoying, lazy sub-genre name drop. It makes things easier.
Anyway, “Vertikal” is the band’s first non-Earache Records effort since their 2001 self-titled debut (originally released by Rage of Achilles but later put out by Earache), as this 65-minute monster is out courtesy of Indie Recordings in Europe and Density Records in the United States. If you’re wondering if the band has changed a lot in the past five years since their last record, they really haven’t. You’ll certainly recognize them when you hear them, and their musical ambition is as active as it ever was. Yet there’s now a really interesting cosmic layer that’s been folded into the band’s music, mostly courtesy of the wooshing, dreamy keyboard work, so it adds a new intergalactic element. It’s really intoxicating and welcoming.
The band, personnel-wise, also hasn’t changed very much the last 10 years, so you’ll know the cast of characters. Johannes Persson is on guitars and vocals; Magnus Lindberg, Fredrik Kihlburg (also vocals), and Erik Olofsson handle guitars; Andreas Johansson is on bass; Thomas Hedlund plays drums; and Anders Teglund takes care of synthesizer and samples. On this record, they’ve got a pretty focused subject matter, that being the 1927 German sci-fi expressionist film “Metropolis” that’s set in a futuristic society and examines class division and struggle. That might explain why the synth work is so spacey and dark, because they were channeling both the dark personal nature of the film as well as the fantastical plotline that’s surprisingly applicable today. All of this combined makes for one of Cult of Luna’s best records to date.
“The One” is the perfect introduction to this record, with moody, cloudy keys setting up a soundscape and getting you in the proper frame of mind. “I: The Weapon” blows open and sounds like classic Cult of Luna, with deeply barked growls, imaginative guitar work, a later more of those icy keys that made me think of frigidity both from a weather standpoint and what was going on thematically in the film. “Vicarious Redemption” is an epic at 18:44, but it’s constructed in such way, and is so good, that it never feels half as long. Keys woosh in, dark spirits canopy the land, and the first eight minutes lean on instrumental storytelling before the vocals come in crushing. There’s a deep helping of shoegazey wonder and poetic playing that keep this song interesting and convulsive. It’s an incredible piece. “The Sweep” is an interlude, and it serves as both a breather and pace changer. It makes me think of red, cold skies and nighttime anxiety and panic.
“Synchronicity” has a watery base but also a sludgy foundation, and its mid-tempo keeps things stomping in place and bashing holes into the crust of the earth. “Mute Departure” has some clean vocals and is a strange but exhilarating transformation. There’s feedback and drone included and eventually some satisfying crunch, and it’s the second best song on here after the epic “Vicarious.” “Disharmonia” is another scene-setting instrumental that leads into “In Awe Of,” that’s built on top of vicious, throaty growls, star-bound key zaps, and a renewed sense of heaviness that brings grit and destruction back to the forefront. “Passing Through” closes things out with more hypnotic melodies, clean vocals returning, and a returning refrain of, “Time’s passing me by.” It’s both a lovely passage and one that can either fill you with hope or despair, depending on where you choose to go.
Cult of Luna are one of the finest bands in the world at what they do, and they’ve certainly spawned their share of disciples. This record proves why this band is so heavily respected and admired, and why having their music back in the metal conversation is a good thing for the genre as a whole. It’s only January, but chances are “Vertikal” is going to be remembered as one of the better metal releases of 2013.
For more on the band, go here: http://cultofluna.com/
To buy the album, go here: http://omerch.theomegaorder.com/Artists_Omerch/CULT-OF-LUNA_2
For more on the label, go here: http://densityrecords.com/