Sweden’s Cult of Luna are desperately trying to be human. No matter how much they want it, they just can’t be. Unlike other post-metal bands they are compared to, like Neurosis, Isis, Godflesh and Jesu, Cult of Luna aren’t restricted by human constraints. Their playing is impeccable, like some piece of ancient Mayan technology that modern minds simply can’t understand, their compositions are unrelenting, unyielding. No matter how much dissonance the band try to toss into the mix, despite the intentional flaws, the feedback, their syncopated drumming and overwhelming layered rhythms work too well. They defy what should be human.
On Veritkal II they pick up where they left off, on yes, you guessed it, Vertikal, which took major inspiration from Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. A familiar synthetic beat starts the disc as it started Vertikal but this time it is softer, it seems to struggle. It sounds like a heartbeat—perhaps a human struggling to live while surrounded by wreckage. The band slowly fills in around the pulse, wind blowing through tunnels, factories moaning, yawning infrastructure, broken, creaking. Embers of some final blast crepitating.
Cult of Luna have admitted they weren’t sure what to expect when releasing Vertikal, their first album in four years. What they got was critical acclaim. This critic still feels it is hands-down one of the best albums of the year. Yes, without the qualification of a genre label. Vertikal II could be seen as a cash-in, but artistically these three songs and a remix by Justin K. Broadrick make a lot of sense because they all feel a bit more human than anything on Vertikal. Vertikal had a logical conclusion in “Passing Through,” a song that sounds like the end of a great civilization—ashes falling to the ground. Veritkal II sounds like what happens when something survives, when there is still hope for life, or, depending on how you see things, the fear that humanity has survived yet another disaster of its own doing. Opener “ORO” builds on the initial pulse and sways like a wounded animal trying to find its way. “Light Chaser” is like nothing the band have done before, bouncing on synths and a U2-esque guitar line floats upward until guitarist-vocalist Johannes Persson roars, “Onward, forward!”
“Shun The Mask” is 12 minutes of rhythmic perfection. Drummer Thomas Hedlund changes out the beat with keyboardist Andres Tegland, which gives way to bass until all the pieces are assembled again. The final track, the remix of Vertikal’s “Vicarious Redemption,” is ethereal and despite being a few samples and a synth line, feels more connected to the human spirit. That isn’t a knock of Cult of Luna—in fact it is a compliment. Despite being an unrelenting machine, the group makes listeners consider the human spirit, which seems tiny in comparison to their mechanical soundscapes, and by doing so makes the listener consider the monstrous peril the fragile human spirit is constantly haunted by.