Vertikal II is more than simply an adjunct to Cult of Luna's Vertikal from earlier this year. Opening track 'O R O' echoes the same pulsating start as 'The One' from Vertikal and the same theme that returns three more times in the full length album. Yes there are clean vocals and the instrumentation is heavy but not as heavy as 'The One'. Then, before you know it, 'O R O' transforms into an adaptation of the closing minutes of 'Passing Through', also from Vertikal and the fourth time we hear the theme on the album, albeit in truncated form. The last part of the song is essentially 'The Sweep'; the second encounter with the theme on the album. Both recordings came from five years of gestation, so rather than an out-take from the Vertikal sessions the song is like a thumbnail sketch, or more accurately the genesis of Vertikal. Or perhaps they simply crawled out of the primordial soup together. Regardless, it's deep, dark, moody and it forgoes what we tend to think of as metal for the simplest of guitar lines and layers and layers of thick, strangling effects and synth with minimal percussive sounds. There's no colour here, just black, grey, and more grey.
The next song, 'Lightchaser' is built around a cold, metallic, industrial, repeating phrase that drives its way into your skull for six minutes and fits the film Metropolis that Vertikal was based on perfectly. It wouldn't, however, have fitted the album given its lack of riffing metal guitar and fierce drums, despite the inclusion of harsh vocals. That would have tipped the balance too far away from the angrier side of the album.
'Shun The Mask' is the obligatory 12 minute epic and it follows the murky, sludgy, industrial path set by the first two as it builds to an earlier crescendo. It has more of the military drum feel found in parts on Vertikal although it's low in the mix, but again no guitar driving those dynabolts into your skull. No, like 'Lightchaser' this is more subversive and in this case uses a sleazy, swaggering synth line alongside the driving repetition to make you feel further disorientated as you venture down its dark, treacherous tunnel. The second crescendo sets up the conclusion and with much pleasure I can declare that Cult of Luna is one of that minority of bands that can actually write an ending to a song. I feel like it would have suited the album.
So these are the three songs that broke away from the rest during the Vertikal sessions, but they are not the unloved B-sides out-takes often become, or the pointless collection of deleted scenes amongst the special features of a DVD. These have been released into the spotlight, not into the shadows. Well, they are firmly in the gloomy and depressing shadows, but you know what I mean. So they are not unwanted bastards, but what I can't agree with is that they somehow continue and complete the concept, because the story had already been fully told. Are they like a director's cut, the concessions made that shouldn't have been? No, or the only way to tell the bigger story would have been to release a longer version of Vertikal. Their purpose seems almost a cathartic exercise for the band. They are the exit strategy. The escape route from the grimy, monotonous dread that had become their musical home.
The inclusion of a tremendous remix of 'Vicarious Redemption' by Justin J Broadrick provides the final gateway to the world outside, perhaps a pointer to a new direction.
So is it any good?
Of course it's fucking good. It's Cult of Luna.