Taking a cue from the physical highs and lows of titular city of Metropolis and the emotional highs and lows of the 1927 film’s story, Cult of Luna’s Vertikal is a linear album, best appreciated from start to finish. Cult of Luna are no strangers to creating painstakingly crafted albums about clashes with authority, so it’s no surprise that Vertikal succeeds. Mirroring the Fritz Lang film’s portrayal of man operating and essentially becoming a part of a machine, the Swedish band plays their instruments meticulously and repetitively.
That said, unlike Metropolis, Vertikal almost immediately devolves into all-out chaos. After the pounding military march of “The One,” we’re introduced to Johannes Persson’s deep-throated scream and the slaying guitars of “1: The Weapon.” Cult of Luna doesn’t allow the tension to develop, as the loud moments come as a jarring surprise following the quieter ones. Instead of succumbing to herky-jerkiness, however, the album, through its lack of suspense, effectively prevents the bloating that often results when bands concentrate too much on the build and not enough on the punch.
The only track on Vertikal that takes its time is the 19-minute “Vicarious Redemption,” which journeys from drone to drums, from guitars to growls. Eleven minutes in, the song adopts a dubstep beat, the album’s first major delving into computer music. Besides perfectly bolstering what Cult of Luna does best (play loudly and scrupulously), on a conceptual level, the dubstep beat transposes Metropolis‘s theme, man versus machine, in a contemporary setting. If Lang’s film portrayed man operating in clocklike motion, battling, succumbing to the machine, Vertikal suggests that man has conquered it by taking control and using it to explore and communicate his emotions. Almost a century later, the heart is still the mediator between the head and hands.