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What do you do as one of the leading major bands of a genre past its prime and now on its deathbed, which has become infested with grandeouse endless tremolo delay guitar leads and overserious worn-out post-rock cliches? For one, you can sharpen your hipster haircut, spread the ashes of the dying ruins and make a theme album about the passing of modern religious icon Steve Jobs and shed a tear for him over a cup of frappuccino at Starbucks.
Or you can say "fuck it", revitalize the band and create an absolute masterpiece. That is what Cult of Luna has done with Vertikal. This new album continues the bandīs journey on exploring new paths, it is the first without the founding member and lead vocalist Klas Rydberg. Just like the previous album Eternal Kingdom, with a massive theme around the records and documents of mental hospital patient Holger Nilsson, Vertikal carries out a theme of soundscapes to early 20th century German expressionism movies. Particularly Fritz Langīs Metropolis from 1927, even though according to Cult of Luna mastermind Johannes Persson, Vertikal explores musical influences from this era far beyond just that film. This ambitious goal couldīve easily been a miss, but Cult of Luna pulls it through with flying colors and leaves us wondering what their next move will be.
While the previous albums Salvation, Somewhere Along The Highway and Eternal Kingdom had a very warm and organic sound to them, Vertikal relies on more industrial-esque, colder and harder soundscapes with synths, samples and loops in a bigger role. It might even come as a shock at first, but after few runs this all just seems a natural progression and musical evolution, which brings a fresh breeze into a genre that really needed one.
The instrumental intro The One introduces the main theme melody for the first time, a tune to reappear in songs like The Sweep, Synchronicity and Passing Through. I: The Weapon could be one of the finest moments of Cult of Lunaīs career, carrying out what CoL does best: the intensive and hardhitting bulldozing that seamlessly flirts with softer elements.
The only let down of the album: Vicarious Redemption swims through every aspect of their recent career, starting out with ambient that couldīve been from Salvation, continued by Somewhere Along The Highway-ish vibes, followed by Salvation-ish guitarworks, Eternal Kingdom-ish melody structures and soundscapes similar to their audiobook Eviga Riketīs closing track . All that, along with 20 minute length, leads to slight disorientation, but even if no bullseye, itīs still a pretty good song.
The Sweep holds a resemblance with the opener The One, putting its focus on synth ambients and drones, where the vocal lines are the most obvious difference. While the next track Synchronicity might not be the strongest of the album, it holds the listener on its grip with the eery feel, until halfway something happens, setting the mood free, and from this point on the song flows more naturally, comes back to life and reaches the same level where the rest of the album operates. Then...
Mute Departure,without a warning, comes with heavy synths and beats that resemble bands like Nine Inch Nails. This is where the listener needs a second to comprehend what just happened. Thereīs also another "I didnīt expect this" moment, when you realize how much the clean vocals remind you of the Machine Head song The Burning Red. Not only the mood, but also the suprisingly similar sounding voices. The track opens with forementioned synths and beats, along with eery clean vocals, before exploding into powerful growls over hypnotic groove and a shattering grande finale. Even though Mute Departure most definitely builds the biggest gap between CoL today and CoL before, this track will - after the first shock - become the grand jewel of their masterpiece Vertikal, even if it has this certain either love it or hate it vibe to it.
Disharmonia, a 45 second long ambient track, and In Awe Of, one of the strongest tracks, return to a more familiar Cult of Luna. Passing Through ends the album with a dreamy mood and soundscapes that easily couldīve been taken from the last three albums of Nine Inch Nails, with a Trent Reznor-like voice and chilling choirs, leaving the listener in awe of (pun intended) pure respect. Even without such a key element as Klas, this album proves that Cult of Lunaīs status as leaders of this genre wasnīt just a fluke, but a result of outstanding musicianship.