Cult of Luna
01. The one
02. I: The Weapon
03. Vicarious Redemption
04. The Sweep
06. Mute Departure
08. In Awe Of
09. Passing Through
Cult Of Luna is one of those bands that have a huge cult following when it comes to sludge and post-metal. Few bands can proudly call themselves art-metallers and not be mistaken. With such great albums as Salvation (2004), Somewhere Along The Highway (2006) and Eternal Kingdom (2008) they have truly put their name as one of the leading forces in post-metal/sludge. With Vertikal, Cult Of Luna rightfully pays homage to Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis” (1927), a science-fiction silent film that was considered to be ahead of its time and was for many years. A movie that artistically inspired many others like “Dark City”, “Blade Runner” and to some extent even the award winning videogame “Bioshock”. It is truly a work of art that has withstood the test of time. So how does Cult of Luna’s aural representation of this classic stand up?
What sets Cult Of Luna apart from most sludge bands is the use of a central theme and storyline that they started to use on their previous effort, Eternal Kingdom. Even though there was some controversy surrounding the validity of the story, which they claimed was a true story, the album’s presentation came off fairly well. While that album was a sprawling epic, it didn’t convey the story nearly as well as one would have hoped. However, with Vertikal the band finally realize their ultimate goal of creating a grandiose concept album that effectively and definitively captures the spirit and themes of a central concept and story. It took five years for them to come up with the idea for the concept of this album but, Vertikal is a massive and over-whelming success of a concept album that perfectly captures the industrial feel of the movie that it draws inspiration from. With the themes of machinery, repetition and clear, linear structures the music broods, builds and boils as you may expect from Cult Of Luna, but never over-complicates itself or veers from its intentions.
Before delving into this artistic interpretation of the movie Metropolis, it is necessary to have some understanding of the movie. Though “necessary” might be too strong of a word, it is still helpful to have an idea of what the story-line is to fully appreciate the art of Vertikal. You can read a detailed review of the movie here and you can also find a plot summary for it below.
A vast future city is divided between its proletariat who slave at the machines in the city’s depths and the administrators who live in palatial comfort high in the city’s towers. Freder, son of the city’s leader Joh Fredersen, is struck by the beautiful Maria when she leads a delegation of children into the upper towers. He follows her into the city depths where she stirs revolt among the workers over the conditions they exist in. Swayed by Maria, Freder implores his father to make changes. Instead, his father goes to the scientist Rotwang and gets him to build a robot double of Maria to corrupt the worker’s sympathies. Rotwang seethes over the fact that Fredersen stole his beloved Hel away from him and sees this as an opportunity for revenge. Using the robot Maria, Fredersen has her seduce the workers to rebel and bring the city smashing down.
It is understandable why the band would choose the movie “Metropolis” for the concept of this album, as the movie’s central themes and ideas are just as relevant today as they were during its initial inception. With the fall of Wall Street and the Global Financial Crisis, it brings to light how a few wealthy people control the lives of a majority of the world, and captures the far reaching effects and consequences of these ideas on a wide and small scale.
Getting into the album it is quite apparent that the stand-out track on the album is without a doubt ‘I: The Weapon’. It is undeniably one of the greatest tracks Cult Of Luna have ever written, and it comes as no surprise that they are able to capture the atmosphere of a very important point in the movie. After all, atmosphere is what this band does best; creatively and evocatively building lush and tense sonic landscapes for the listener to encapsulate themselves. Chronologically, the track takes place at the start of the movie where the protagonist Freder runs after Maria and ends up in the underground worker’s city. Here he bears witness to a horrifying industrial accident that leaves a lot of the workers injured. Confronted by the horror of the incident, he suddenly realizes that he is responsible for the plight of the workers. This realization and horror is so perfectly captured in the track that you can literally feel the internal dilemma the protagonist is going through as he confronts this horrible truth. This ability to capture the emotion of an event on such a fundamental level is what makes this album so beautiful, and mesmerizing.
Talking about the sound of the album, the most apparent thing is the abundant use of synthesizers. Cult Of Luna are no strangers to electronic sounds as they’ve been employing them since their early albums to help create the thick atmosphere they’re known for. Though the band has a large number of members, most of Vertikal uses synthesizers, which is understandable because they wanted to give it an industrial feel to capture the atmosphere of the movie (notably, the massive droning siren at the beginning of ‘Mute Departure’ that fills the listener with fear). But when the synthesizers play almost all the important parts of the music, and carry most of the album, it brings to question, why have a three guitar ensemble in the first place? With this development in the band’s sound, it’s hard to avoid the fact that the guitars seem under-used. Though, this is not an altogether bad thing, as it gives a lot more importance to the guitar parts whenever they appear and take the lead. In an attempt at interpreting the use of synthesizers, as much as they’re used on the album, we can say that the synthesizers comprise the robotic and mechanical aspect of the movie, whereas the guitars tell the more human and emotional side of the story. This comes off very clearly in the music, and it shows how intelligent the band is with their use of sound.
Within the post-metal genre the bass is always a very important aspect of the music and hence, is always prominent in the mix. Having two percussionists is always interesting and therefore both of them come up with patterns and fills that are not only interesting and adventurous, but always relevant to the track as a whole. Because there are so many instruments being played at once (after all, there are eight members in Cult Of Luna) with layer upon layer of sound, every time the audience hears the album they may find new melodies spring up that they probably didn’t notice the first, second, or even the third time around. This element of song writing and arrangement adds an immense replay value to the album that so few bands can effectively create.
The problem with reinterpreting a work of art from one medium to another is that there is always a chance of altering the message you’re supposed to receive from the original source. In that same sense, even though Vertikal carries the same message from the movie, it seems to be going off on a different tangent, but that is far from a drawback. In fact, one could argue that this album creates even more depth to an already exceptionally profound story. Vertikal is exceptional in every way, and with this addition to their discography, Cult of Luna has secured their place as the new masters of sludge and post-metal, considering the previous ones have disbanded, toppling even the likes of the great Isis.
Cult of Luna -Vertikal gets…