Cult Of Luna: the master architects of Vertikal

Four years ago, Cult Of Luna released an album, Eternal Kingdom, which concept was extended to an audio book, Eviga Riget. In a certain way, the real concept wasn’t the one we had thought, that is the murder of the wife of a so-called Holger Nilsson, but rather the experience of the band to test its audience limits, and the journalists’ one in particular. Cult Of Luna took its time to give a successor to Eternal Kingdom. This record was finally born in the beginning of 2013: Vertikal.

Cult Of Luna clearly offers a well-thought out, meticulous record, matured while reflecting on the 20th century german expressionists’ urban themes, especially illustrated by its movies. Vertikal is indisputably more influenced by Metropolis’ rectilinear and spectacular perspectives than by Der Golem or The Cabinet of Dr Caligari’s architectural fancies. Of course, no obvious link between the songs and the soundtracks of these movies will be found. Vertikal is not a journey into the expansionist past of the big cities of the 20’s. It is a modern and even futurist projection, like Fritz Lang’s Metropolis was in its time.

This is what the band intended to do when he worked on this concept for a long time. As Johannes Persson reveals it in an interview given to ATTN Magazine, Vertikal is the son of “a manifest” which was developed by the band to define very clearly the direction to take for this new album: “For the last two records, Somewhere Along The Highway and Eternal Kingdom, we all went to the countryside, in a very rural environment, very much inspired by northern Sweden from where we all come. So we really had to go to the city; and into the future. […] We didn’t stop watching images and a lot of these images came from Metropolis, from the Art Deco and German expressionist movement”.

The listener has thus to leave the melodic and rhythmic landscapes of the previous two records. With the first song, “The One” – a sort of electronic introduction – the change of perspective is clearly evident. And it is during nearly 19 minutes that “Vicarious Redemption” draws the lines of this new perspective. Thanks to uncluttered rhythms, a heavy tempo and recurrent measures, “Vertikal” takes its time. The time to spread its industrial and metallic atmosphere in the shade of factories and high buildings. The time to extend its sound impact to big tubular areas and industrial hangars. The time to seize every routine until mechanical alienation. “Vertikal” finds a certain heaviness again, proper to the “Cult Of Luna” record but controls its raw and chaotic energy the same way as the following records show.

Against the idea of a wildly fast technological world, speed sensations and overpopulation do not enter into Vertikal’s ideals. The effervescence, the flow of masses within the city are however mentioned in the built tempo of “Vicarious Redemption”. Other themes, close to expressionist preoccupations, were given more attention: the angular design of the artwork’s big towers ; a certain grandiosity suggested by the guitar riffs’ heaviness; patterns recurrence and cycles to signify the imprisonment and alienation, even madness; the machine’s representation and a certain futurism through electronic sounds. The band’s new promo pictures also refer to Metropolis’ aesthetics and to identity problems.

After listening to the hypnotic “Passing Through”, which ends the record, it is very difficult to leave Vertikal’s world, a unique and successfully completed universe which has grown in our heads. Vertikal’s impact is not on the same level as Somewhere Along The Highway or Eternal Kingdom’s one, whose melodies’ emotional impact was very strong. What etches first in our memories with Vertikal is the mastery of the sound structures, the recurrent rhythm parts which sticks to the essential and laconic chords over electro-ambient measures. Behind this impression of simplicity and almost mechanical rigour spreads a very rich musical world. The melodic approach keeps Cult Of Luna’s traditional characteristics. We identify the emotional crescendos’ structures based on subtle and recurrent guitar variations gravitating towards continuous keyboard layers. Howling vocals are still in majority, even if we can find clean vocals on two songs – « Mute Departure » and « Passing Through ».

Electronic sounds, discreetly present on Eternal Kingdom are obvious on Vertikal. “The Sweep” occupies during the three minutes of an esoteric and electronic space. The humanoid vocals of “Mute Departure” floats in a remote tribal atmosphere which goes through the vocoder. We hear breaths over iron sheets, metals which collide, menacing percussions, alien whistles. Guitars untwist in irrational twinges on “In Awe Of” in order to play the urban alienation’s discordances. The quest for a sound identity, as stated by Johannes Persson to the French webzine Metalorgie in July 2012, goes through experiments: “A ladder lay around by chance in the studio. The idea came to us to make sounds out of it by hitting it. We recorded it, altered and transformed the sounds through different ways to create these strange industrial metallic percussions”.

Vertikal is coherent but at the same time, the range of tonalities is very diverse : the aggressiveness of “I : The Weapon”, the discordant experiment of “Disharmonia”, the long and minimalist intro of “Vicarious Redemption”, the ethereal calm of “Passing Through”. “Synchronicity” establishes the rhythm of machines: the percussionists brutalize their drums as regular as clockwork, doing their thing like workers who have to keep up the rhythm. Other songs, on the contrary, wake up the human souls who wander in these urban deserts: “Mute Departure” is about a remote spirituality nonetheless attached to Earth, and especially “In Awe Of” which feeds on an organic energy which contrasts with “I : The Weapon” whose intention is the same but whose sound is colder.

In December 2012, Johannes Persson declared on our site that Vertikal “should be based on recurrences and on a monotonous, very industrial and all in straight lines feeling. Everything should be non organic. It had to be sinister, dark and depressive”. This contract is not entirely respected: Cult Of Luna has given birth to a concrete and steel structure, despite the conceptual rigidity in which the record has been defined. The city of the future, far from being monotonous and totally depressive, has indeed a soul. Vertikal builds an urban complex based on apparently simple elements – recurrences, straight lines, binary rhythms – whose paradoxical sound richness calls out over and over again for exploration. After two records musically close, Cult Of Luna does not fall into the trap of repetition: the band is more mature with this Vertikal which undisputably will leave its particular mark within the band’s discography.

Album Vertikal , out since January 29th 2013 via Indie Recordings

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