Sound: Cult Of Luna's sixth album, inspired by Fritz Lang's silent masterpiece "Metropolis," only came out in January. The seven Swedes were still raking in acclaim for the epic "Vertikal" when they announced "Vertikal II," a sister EP which would build on the impressionist, dystopian themes of the film and continue to follow their self-imposed brief of intense, futuristic post-metal. Those who are surprised by this development will be even more surprised by how it sounds. For one, there are no riffs to speak of; this is an experiment in martial rhythms and industrial repetition. Although it has strong ties to the band's past, it doesn't really sound like a metal album at all. Instead Cult Of Luna's three guitar players use a range of effects and distortions over three new tracks to embellish what is increasingly a percussive and electronic core.
"O R O" is an imposing opening, building on the key motifs of "Vertikal" with layers of expansive vocals and threatening dissonance. A slow, reverberating pulse counts constantly, like a train across tracks. It can only echo the harsh militarism of "Vertikal," but when the distortion kicks in and vocalist Johannes Persson starts bellowing down the microphone it is equally oppressive.
"Light Chaser" continues to emphasise Anders Teglund's keyboards as an increasingly prominent part of Cult Of Luna's music. Built from one beat and one string of guitar notes, Teglund eventually seeps through the entire mix and stirs a great whirlwind of industrial noise, reinforced by aggressive, repetitive bass notes. With carefully programmed volleys of distortion, the piece builds in strength and volume, gyrating as it reaches a naturally powerful climax which, paradoxically, is engineered in minute detail.
Traditional guitar band mechanisms return momentarily for "Shun the Mask," the longest of the new tracks at twelve minutes and arguably the least experimental. Though the synth is championed again, with Teglund getting three or four tunes to himself before the guitars even get a look in, the drop-tuned bass and measured percussion will be familiar to older Cult Of Luna fans. It is a more naturalistic jam, in some ways similar to their 2008 album "Eternal Kingdom," and towards the end the band's signature sludge riffs do eventually make a cameo appearance.
The EP, and with it the entire project, closes with Justin K. Broadrick's remix of a track from the full-length called "Vicarious Redemption." The Jesu and Godflesh kingpin offers a final, fully electronic interpretation of the sounds from "Vertikal," giving Cult Of Luna's original twenty-minute monolith an injection of optimism and melodic purity. He composes a new central theme, a single line of synth soaked in reverb and delay, and reshapes the original's wobbling bass, e-bowed guitar and marching beat to conjure an ethereal radiance. At present, Broadrick's proficiency with electronic music is greater than that of his subject, but this imaginative piece offers some idea of territory the band could go on to explore, as this chapter of their career draws to a close. // 9
Lyrics: As you might expect from a metal band who don't speak native English, music takes precedence over lyrics on "Vertikal II." The words are best used as thematic prompts, guiding the listener towards an understanding of what the music itself seeks to express. The brutal repetition of "Light Chaser" ("onward/forward/onward/forward") is an obvious example, the non-verbal hymn of "O R O" rather more subtle. Unerringly direct language stokes an urgent and intimidating mood. The conversation between Fredrik Kihlberg's clean vocals and Persson's screams (on "O R O" and "Shun the Mask") is more rewarding than anything the band achieved with the previous combination of Persson and lead vocalist Klas Rydberg, who left the band in 2011. // 8
Overall Impression: You can see why these songs were kept from the full-length; "Vertikal" was a journey and this is a statement. In fact, it's a rather authoritative one. The dark and threatening tones offer little room for compromise, even though the machine-like riffs have been deconstructed. "Vertikal II" and its big brother together make a masterwork of thematic integration. The imagery is incredibly vivid; listen to one and you will see the rise and fall of a terrible machine dystopia, listen to the other and you will see desolate landscapes, burning debris and flickers of what once stood. Now complete, this project steps out of the shadow of "Metropolis," breaking new ground for Cult Of Luna and all of their peers who aspire to write intelligent, evocative metal. // 9
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- Duncan Geddes (c) 2013