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Cult of Luna’s Lines Are More Than Merely Vertikal

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Post-metal tests our endurance. It rubs us raw, lengthy epics grinding away at skin and resolve alike, music that embodies both its sludgy and ethereal backgrounds. This kind of persistence only continues to burn if it’s consistently refreshed, new wounds torn open to prevent the onset of monotony. With their 2013 concept album,Vertikal, Cult of Luna haven’t lessened their intensity any — in fact, they’ve made sure to galvanize that intensity with novel stings and subtle weapons. Despite the album’s blunt, uncompromising title and linear themes, it’s anything but restricted.

Vertikal’s concept is based on the images in Fritz Lang’s 1927 sci-fi movie Metropolis and its “themes of machinery, repetition, and clear, linear structure.” Thus, Vertikal is ostensibly – and even by design – straightforward, a characteristic that all too often spells death for post-metal albums.

But this straightforward approach allows Vertikal to elucidate itself rather than degenerate into redundancy. The album develops relentlessness on its own terms — lava-like consistency and cohesion over profligate ferocity or complexity.  Vertikal swallows us alive, locking us on edge while we wait for the ever-building mountains of sound to finally relax. Even when they pause for a second, Cult of Luna never once make the mistake of implying that they’re ready to stop, never allowing you to truly regain breath. Melody tautens the climb instead of mitigating it, which the band doesn’t do until the last track of the album. It’s simply but powerfully focused.

The band sculpts eerie environments where even soft, murky sounds can breed tension, like at the beginning of the twenty-one-minute “Vicarious Redemption.” The six minutes of solemn sound are mesmerizing despite being only a slight skeleton for what’s to come. The rest of the song – and the entirety of the album – builds on that tension, creating a granulating, climactic atmosphere that echoes the album’s theme.

And the details aren’t forsaken. Cult of Luna have been perfecting their art for quite some time, and Vertikal is their piece de resistance. Every brush stroke, every angle, and each type of shading were considered, straight lines tweaked enough to develop character without losing any structure. Their varied palette is expressed in the subdued flanging of “Mute Departure” and in the meshed density of “I, The Weapon.” “Synchronicity” is a glorious example of the band’s penchant for the bizarre, prickling harmonies allowing room for innovation despite the band’s clearly etched stylistic pattern.

Electronic elements and effects accentuate the heaviest qualities instead of distracting from them, allowing the album to become viscerally imaginable. You can almost see the bubbles streaming out of the vocalists’ mouths as underwater screams ring out on “The Sweep.” Both opener “The One” and closer “Passing Through” appear innocuous, but are redeemed by their meticulously chosen evocations. Those evocations emotes the bleak textures on the album, and thus humanize it, preventing the sixty-seven minutes of music from becoming tiresome. It may have taken them five years to get here, but Vertikal makes it clear that no matter how linearly Cult of Luna present themselves, they’ll never be one-dimensional artists.

Cult of Luna’s Vertikal comes out January 29 on Density Records in the U.S. and Indie Recordings in Europe. You can listen to the track “I: The Weapon” here and pre-order the album here.

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