Let’s just get this out of the way now; Cult of Luna are, and have been for the past…a bunch of years, my absolute favorite band. This isn’t hyperbole. I have their lyrics tattooed on me, I have spent a ridiculous amount of money obtaining original pressings of their albums (mostly right before they get repressed because I have awful luck, but that’s neither here nor there…), and I have seen every American show that they’ve played, travelling states away to do so. My wife is due to give birth to a baby girl this weekend, and her middle name will be Luna. HAVE I PROVED MY FANBOYISM YET?
I am also a Julie Christmas fan. Her unique voice has carried great bands like Battle of Mice and Made Out of Babies, and her solo album was also very very good. When I heard the two would be paired on Mariner, I was immediately interested. I am pleased to say that my interest paid off, and my exceedingly high expectations were not only met, but completely blown away.
The album starts with “A Greater Call”, which was released a few weeks ago to hype up the album. It is a simplistic song only in that it revolves around one melody, carried for almost eight and a half minutes. It is haunting, it is beautiful, and Julie Christmas‘s voice pairs perfectly with Johannes Persson’s. It is in this song that Johannes takes lead the most on the album, and his harsh vocals make this sound closest to a “normal” Cult of Luna song.
The second song, “Chevron” is immediately different. With heavy riffing reminiscent of COL’s album The Beyond, Ms. Christmas gets to flex her vocal muscles a bit more. It is a completely different beast than “A Greater Call”, and it was at this point that it was clear to me that while the album would be cohesive and make logical sense together, that they were planning to cover a lot of ground.
It was on the third song on the album, the haunting “The Wreck of the S.S. Needle” that I realized just how much ground would be covered. Invoking shades of Godspeed You Black Emperor and Mogwai, the song quickly gives way to thunderous riffing and percussive madness. The controlled chaos on this song is very impressive. They manage to keep a groove and strong riffing, while still interjecting it with light, airy melodies courtesy of well placed keyboard, and perfect chord and single note choices with the guitars.
The beginning of the fourth song, “Approaching Transition”, reminded me a bit of the song “Passing Through” from the Cult of Luna album Vertikal. I’m honestly unsure who did the clean vocals to start the song, but I would guess that it was the guitarist of Cult of Luna, Fredrik Kihlberg, who sung “Passing Through”. It starts slow and builds and despite the absence of Julie Christmas‘s melodic vocals, this may actually be the “pretty” song on the album. The melodies are interesting, and the imagery it evokes for me is that of being lost at sea. Seriously, this is possibly one of the most beautiful songs I’ve ever heard. By the time the “heavy riff” kicked in, I was almost in a trance. The return of Johannes Persson’s screamed vocals towards the end of the song had me nodding my head along with the plodding riff that suited them perfectly. But they don’t overstay their welcome in any way, or detract from the beauty of the song.
The final song “Cygnus” came all too soon. Immediately the song is the most balls out heavy song, with a speedy and melodic lead riff reminisicent of their work on Eternal Kingdom’s Ghost Trail and Vertikal’s Vicarious Redemption. The song is faster than the others, and more “metal”, but in no way does it sound out of place. The trade off in vocals between Johannes and Julie is just perfect. By the end of the song, my jaw was actually dropped, and I was staring into space looking very foolish in front of my cat.
In 55 minutes spread over 5 songs, Cult of Luna has again stolen my heart. I know I spent this whole review gushing, and it may not be the most impartial, but I also don’t care. It was an absolute pleasure to hear this album, and I can’t say enough good things about it. If you’re a fan of Cult of Luna you will love this. If you’re not a fan of Cult of Luna, I don’t think your ears work and I don’t want to know you. Julie Christmas is in no small part responsible for a lot of beauty on this record, and I don’t want to overshadow her role with my obvious bias. Her voice fits the music perfectly, and her control of dynamic as well as her range is astonishing. No other vocalist could have integrated so seamlessly with Cult of Luna. Her voice is powerful, but also light when needed. Mariner should be seen as a benchmark for what collaboration albums sound like; when both parties bring their A game to the table, and everyone benefits from it.
Releases April 8, 2016 on Indie Recordings
For Fans of: Cult of Luna, Made Out of Babies, Battle of Mice, Neurosis, Isis, Mogwai, “post metal”, good music, not being stupid and missing out on this. (Ok those last two aren’t bands)