Cult of Luna have always taken great care and consideration when it comes to presenting their art. The band’s previous record, Eternal Kingdom, released back in the summer of 2008, was promoted as based on the hallucinatory ramblings contained within a diary of a mental patient which was supposedly found by the band when they were practising in a building previously used as a mental hospital. No questions were posed as to the legitimacy of the concept for Eternal Kingdom, but Cult of Luna have subsequently admitted that the whole back-story was fabricated by the band themselves. Regardless of this, Eternal Kingdom was an enthralling record that tied some of the most dynamic music this post-metal giant had ever written to a fantastical concept and wrapped it in suitably exquisite artwork.
Enough time has now passed since the release of Eternal Kingdom to allow Cult of Luna the distance to conceive another detailed effort and execute it with the same commitment as its predecessors. Vertikal is the result of the band’s endeavours; a concept record loosely based around Fritz Lang’s 1927 dystopian science-fiction film, Metropolis. Cult of Luna have been laborious in their attempt to ensure that the music of Vertikal is reminiscent of the austere atmosphere of the expressionist film that forms its muse, and the Swedish septet have more than succeeded in doing so. Vertikal is chillingly futuristic and its quasi-industrial stance is almost Teutonic sounding; much like the aural equivalent of its stark artwork. Beginning with “The One”, Cult of Luna take Shine On You Crazy Diamond-era Pink Floyd as a reference point (a seminal record whose influence reappears throughout, especially during the mighty “Mute Departure”) for this introduction-piece that sets the mood for the turbulent post-metal of “I:The Weapon”. “I:The Weapon” pulls at the tenets of Cult of Luna’s well-defined sound, but the bleak keyboards and atmospheric guitar-scapes entwine with the hypnotic riffs and rhythms to attach welcome profundity.
If one thing can be proclaimed about this band is that once Cult of Luna decide on a clear narrative they create music that does not mislay one note or become in any way tedious – something that many artists who have followed in their path have not taken on board. The intimidating centrepiece of Vertikal, “Vicarious Redemption,” bolsters this point. An engrossing 19-minute movement, “Vicarious Redemption” may be the pinnacle of Cult of Luna’s artistic output; a piece which covers plenty of ground through well-paced ascending and descending passages which directly maintain a strict sense of cohesion that renders running times redundant.
This focus on making the music flow organically in time with the narrative is essential to any concept record, and each and every part of Vertikal is crucial to the overarching story; whether it be the electronic undercurrents of “The Sweep”, the detached yet engaging “Synchronicity”, the slow-burn of the punishing “In Awe Of”, or the Khoma-esque ending that is “Passing Through” – a song which injects some human emotion into what is an otherwise desolate and often unforgiving listen. The fact that after six full-length LPs Cult of Luna can still deliver an opus as challenging, engrossing and intricately layered as Vertikal is a testament to the abilities of this Swedish collective; a band who have now earned their place as one of the most essential in progressive metal.