Sound — 9
"There can be no understanding between the hand and the brain unless the heart acts as mediator", so said Maria in Fritz Lang's classic silent film, "Metropolis". So when esteemed sludge arthouse Cult Of Luna wrote a manifesto for their new album, deciding on its direction before a note was played, they must have known it would take some work. Like Lang's dystopian masterpiece, the band wanted "Vertikal" to be intense, mechanical and at times unforgiving, taking inspiration from the film's industrial tone and integrating it into the seven-piece's style of fluctuating heaviness, linear structure and high drama. The band have benefitted massively since they brought in a third guitar; what it's done is enabled them to move seamlessly through soft, introspective playing and brash, heavy riffing by organising who plays what and when, without changes in gain. The versatility of having such a large group has never been demonstrated better; the guitars are only the beginning. Synth player Anders Teglund is given a starring role for the first time, handling the crucial melodies and defining the futuristic tinges of vignettes "The One" and "The Sweep". Bassist Andreas Johansson adds important depth to the heavier sections. Magnus Lndberg and Thomas Hedlund, meanwhile, make up the engine room on percussion, metronomic and disciplined but full of artistic flourishes and absolutely outstanding once let loose on the euphoric finale "In Awe Of". Harsh, robotic rhythms drive "Synchronicity" but "Vicarious Redemption", the longest song in the band's history, undertakes a slow and gradual transformation from menacing industrial nightmare to classic Cult Of Luna payoff, with sweeping distortion, authoritative vocals and dissonant downtuned riffing. The size of the group and variety of textures they bring to the table allow these changes to occur regularly throughout the album without compromising either the vision of the band or their sound as we understand it from past albums. The whole thing is executed quite masterfully.
Lyrics — 8
Being ambitious does however mean that you have to leave yourself open to criticism for your weaknesses and flawed English is the main one here. The Swedes have always picked interesting, relevant themes which say something about themselves and the world around them but perhaps more than ever they're let down by the language on "Vertikal". The lyrics read awkwardly on the page but match the dystopia in meaning and are hardly noticeable when you listen. The point need not be stressed. Johannes Persson has taken up sole responsibility for lead vocals following the departure of founding member Klas Rydberg. The two used to share duties but the change is not monumental, with no disrespect to Rydberg. Persson screams with equal power and similar tone, adding human anguish to the mechanized assault but dropping into silence for long stretches at a time, letting the atmosphere change before he comes back with more.
Overall Impression — 9
It's been a while since we last heard from Cult Of Luna; after "Eternal Kingdom" in 2008 they felt a rest was needed and they've been cooped up for several years recharging their batteries and planning work on the next album. They've come back after five years as a well-oiled machine, setting themselves a target and writing an intelligent, evocative piece of art that emphatically meets it in execution. It's something that more bands should do. In heavy music, artists with a unique, sophisticated voice are rare indeed but "Vertikal" proves that Cult Of Luna not only have such a voice but are capable of adapting it to their needs, taking risks and challenging themselves to progress with every album. This isn't the finest work of their career but make no mistake about it, they are one of the best bands we've got on our planet right now.