Is there some kind of chemical imbalance in the mushy bit of squidge I keep in my skull hole? What is it about miserable, angry, stamp-your-feet-like-an-impetuous-toddler music that makes me so bloody happy? Because it does. It really, truly does. And this album, laden with seventeen tonnes of prime Swedish misery, is so hideously, bleakly depressing, that it’s forcing me to write a ‘word-happy’, right now, all over your screen.
Cult of Luna, for those of you who haven’t been paying attention, are the Swedish answer to Neurosis, in that they are purveyors of post-metallic, progressive sludge with an intellectual bent and oceans of misery. Which may be just about the smuggest, most pretentious thing ever committed to a word processing package that wasn’t written by the cast of Ten O’Clock Live, but it’s true nonetheless.
Vertikal is their sixth album, and is apparently all based around Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, and follows on the heels of a concept album about insane asylums and owl-god creatures. That previous sentence isn’t looking so silly now, eh? Basically, it means this one sounds a bit more sci-fi. Of course, all that is just window-dressing nonsense, because after all an album’s concept has no bearing on its worth. Just ask The Smashing Pumpkins.
So is Vertikal any good?
Well of course it is. Don’t be stupid. It’s Cult of Luna, and if you don’t like them then you are not trying hard enough. Following on from Eternal Kingdom’s balancing act between balls-out sludge and post-rock meanderings, this seems both more focused and yet less rigid than its predecessor. Opening with two minutes of bleepy paranoiac scene setting with The One, it then launches into I, The Weapon, a song that starts in such a thoroughly Cult Of Luna manner it could have been liberated from any of their last few albums; lots of sludge, metronomic groove and the trademark anguished barking of Johannes Persson.
But then there are shades of new sounds, new layers sprinkled throughout, occasional non-guttural vocals, electronic passages and even a spot of maracas, if I’m not mistaken. It lets us know that this is a more mature, if no less violent CoL.
This sense of a greater experimentation welded to their already multi-layered sound features throughout. The nineteen-minute long Vicarious Redemption builds and builds until it finds time to fit in a bit of dubstep farty-noise—and not in a hideous Skrillex way.
You remember when you first heard The Dubstep Sound and you thought ‘hey, I like that sound’? And then every time you heard it afterwards it made you want to run up to the person and shout in their face that they sound like an idiot with their waaa waaa bwum bwum bwum waaa bullshit? Well, CoL have used it exactly the way you thought it should have been the first time round. Does it work? Yes of course it does. It’s brilliant.
I could go through the rest of the album, but to be quite honest I don’t want to; and I suspect you don’t want me to either, because why would you want to drag this review out any longer? It’s mega, this album is. Depressing, bleak, beautiful, haunting, crushing, and many other adjectives and superlatives besides, Vertikal represents arguably a career peak in the output of a band whose bar was already set pretty high. If it had been released in December it would have been adorned with all sorts of ‘album of year’ histrionics, but it wasn’t. So now every reviewer has to find room for the line ‘We’ve only just seen the back of end of year lists but mark my words,come next December, Vertikal will be challenging for album of the year honours.’ It’s the law.
Except it won’t of course, because nobody’s memory will stretch back that far, and because reviewers are halfwits who mainly care about the last thing that was put in front of them, like puppies in a taste test for a variety of noxious-smelling Pedigree Chum products.
They don’t give a shit, they just want the one closest to them. Then they’ll give a shit.