For me, the most compelling collaboration of 2016 was the transatlantic partnership of post-metal stalwarts Cult of Luna and post-hardcore siren Julie Christmas. Both acts on their own provoke ample curiosity — Cult of Luna for their orchestral post-metal machinations, and Christmas for her insanely talented and schizophrenic vocal acrobatics — but put them together and you have a recipe for something amazing. The big question is how well Christmas can integrate into the sprawling compositions we expect from the band — or conversely, how much Cult of Luna might tailor their sounds and writing for the singer. After all, they’re not Made out of Babies. Chemistry is key on collaborations!
As with all Cult of Luna albums, Mariner is a concept album, with themes of space exploration permeating the music. “A Greater Call” gets things started, and begins in typical Cult of Luna fashion: a somber fade-in with a doomy, almost Pink Floyd-ish melody. They are in no rush here, and when the crescendo hits three minutes in, with Johannes Persson’s harsh howls and Christmas’s soaring harmonies, it sends shivers up your spine. All doom pretensions are thrown to the wind, and a monstrous riff takes over before a wall of sound crushes us, once again with Christmas weaving her unique cherubic vocals around Persson’s harshness. The template for Mariner has been set, and it’s killer.
One might think patience is a virtue when listening to Mariner. The album is five songs long, ranging from eight to fifteen minutes per song, each subsequent song longer than the last. But fear not: it’s almost impossible to lose interest in any of these tracks. “Chevron” features Christmas at her craziest, most demonic best, and the song is massive, maybe the heaviest post-metal song of the year. “The Wreck of the S.S. Needle” opens with ominous keyboards and equally ominous lyrics from Christmas. Equal parts militantly heavy and forebodingly off-kilter, the song ebbs and flows in such a way that we can’t stop listening. “Approaching Transition” is the hardest song to wrap one’s head around: mind-numbingly slow, with effect-laden non-Christmas vocals it is easy to dismiss, especially with closer “Cygnus” wrapping things up in eerily menacing fashion. Much like “A Greater Call,” Christmas stretches her vocal wings wide and the band intertwines heavy riffs with a well-crafted atmosphere.
Despite the fact that the band recorded their parts in Sweden and Christmas tracked her vocals in New York, Mariner exhibits all the cohesiveness of an in-person collaboration. Making an album via file-sharing can be tricky, but Julie Christmas and Cult of Luna pull it off. The band sounds as good as always, with inspiring performances all around, and Christmas can do no wrong in my book, tailoring her lyrics and stylings perfectly to the music. If this is a one-off deal, it was a great one. Don’t let Mariner pass you by.
Tracks to Check Out: There are only five, check them all! “A Greater Call,” “The Wreck of S.S. Needle,” and “Cygnus”