Amidst all our genre squabbling and elitism, there exists a selection of bands who operate on metal’s outer limits. Elusive, erudite and enigmatic, they so staunchly avoid direct genre classification that it’s almost to their detriment. For Cult Of Luna, a five year gap has pervaded between 2008’s Eternal Kingdom and this, their sixth full-length effort since their inception in 1998, and the results are as unpredictable as you’d expect. For starters, the nucleus of Vertikal comes from Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (which was incidentally the inspiration for Queen’s ‘Radio Ga Ga’ music video), and while giving the album a central theme is certainly not out of the ordinary for the band, it is the first time they’ve developed a concept from another form of popular media. Frankly, the metal landscape has missed them in the interim, and Vertikal wastes no time in filling the omnipresent void they left in their absence.
The bowel-rumbling low end of bona fide album opener ‘I: The Weapon’ is immediate in its bludgeoning yet euphoric attack, as spacey guitar motifs and throat-curdling vocals litter across the sludgiest riffs you’ll hear this side of Neurosis, instantly conjuring up visions of the industrial vision of Earth portrayed in the aforementioned classic. The epic ‘Vicarious Redemption’ follows this, which in its mammoth 18-minute length will be the true test of your patience if you’re a newcomer to Cult Of Luna. For those with a longer attention span than most, the sprawling sonic journey you are taken on throughout pays dividends as it guides you into mid-album interlude ‘The Sweep’, which with its heavy reliance on synths also calls to mind images of the dystopian future Metropolis presents to us. At three tracks in, it seems apparent that Vertikal is an album dependent on the full artistic spectrum, both visual and sonic, as the laboured industrial flavour of ‘Synchronicity’ lurches forth, with an unsettling melancholy resting wonderfully against the obligatory grind of the songs guitar work. Creating a lyrical concept for an album is one thing, but what the band have managed to do here is not only lyrically reference the film, but the composition work is so intimately interwoven with the story that it’s difficult to imagine another band accomplishing anything similar, as the demented groove of ‘In Awe Of’ echoes Isis without so much as a hint of mimicry, shifting through multiple changes in mood before the utter despondency of ‘Passing Through’ brings proceedings to a halt with a heartbreaking sense of finality, something that Cult Of Luna have always been a dab hand at.
In complete fairness, if you’re not already a Cult Of Luna fan, then something as enveloping and elaborate as Vertikal is probably not the most simple way to start. Though it is the kind of record that demands repeated listens (and rewards thoroughly from then on), it requires so much of a listener beyond just a headbang or two. But for the listener who begs more from their metal, this band have always been one of the finest purveyors of other-worldly heavy music, and if you let it, Vertikal will take you on the kind of natural trip that you never thought possible from metal. Welcome back, guys.
Vertikal is out 28th January via Indie Recordings
1. The One
2. I: The Weapon
3. Vicarious Redemption
4. The Sweep
6. Mute Departure
8. In Awe Of
9. Passing Through