REVIEW: CULT OF LUNA & JULIE CHRISTMAS – “Mariner”
As a big fan of Swedish post-metal giants, Cult of Luna, I was excited to hear that the band was coming out with a new album. Though it did come as a surprise, having quite recently released a split EP with The Old Wind, entitled ‘Råångest’. Cult of Luna are known for having a specific sound, which is what I was expecting as I sat down to listen to their latest album, ‘Mariner’. However, the addition of Brooklyn-based singer Julie Christmas (Made out of Babies, Battle of Mice) took me completely off-guard. She won me over instantly with her versatile mix of raw screams and child-like cleans.
The first track, “The Greater Call”, begins with a slow, atmospheric opening, which eventually launches into a simple and heavy rhythm. The vocal layers by both Christmas and Cult of Luna frontman Johannes Persson are gorgeous, providing a fresh new flavor to an already solid sound. The combination of the two vocalists creates an impressive effect, with Christmas’s ambient melodies backing up Persson’s usual harshness perfectly. The basic use of instruments on this track works very well to establish a heavy background without distracting from the overall haunting character.
The transition into “Chevron” is flawless, and paints a unifying scene. This is where the collaboration reveals its true colors and everyone involved shines. Christmas’s cute yet elegant cleans are showcased a lot more on this track, coming in right away on top of the thudding floor toms and wonderfully gritty bass line. There are some really great riffs and melodies which catapult into intense vocal tantrums, laden with enigmatic keyboards and intriguing percussion. The tight snare rolls that appear when Thomas Hedlund lets loose are also worthy of note, although I would like to hear his crisp ghost notes brought out slightly more in the mix in general.
I thought that “Chevron” would be the highlight of ‘Mariner’, but then came “The Wreck of the S.S. Needle”. I cannot stress my love for this song enough. Every aspect is an emotional journey in the most pure sense. The low rumble that hurls itself into a storm of fierce and passionate vocals by Christmas is remarkable. She utilizes her voice in a way that is highly underused by women in music, and doesn’t need to be tampered with and polished. In fact, the raw emotion that she provides is why she fits so well with Cult of Luna, being the female counterpart to Persson. The drums open up more on this track as well, the snare work bringing a necessary rigidity into the fold. The simplicity of the guitars and bass is extremely impactful, adding tremendous depth.
The following track, “Approaching Transition”, is the weakest, and perhaps not-so-coincidentally does not involve Julie Christmas. Nevertheless, it does supply a slower, sludgier dynamic to the album, and the softer male vocals leave you in a trance before Persson’s harsh roar is back. As the heaviness descends, the listener is finally cast into “Cygnus 1”. The riffs of this song remind me the most of Cult of Luna’s previous album, ‘Vertikal’, but with an eerie and almost pop-like performance by Christmas – that is, until the explosion just past the half-way point, where both vocalists take over. The layers that follow are stunning, producing a moving surge of controlled chaos that leaves you with your mouth hanging open in the ringing silence. However that finale came together, it is amazingly impressive.
‘Mariner’ is a very well-written album, brimming with intensity. Despite the short track list, it clocks in at just under an hour, which wasn’t nearly enough for me. However much I enjoyed Cult of Luna before, it’s nothing to the adoration I feel toward this collaboration with Julie Christmas. Every facet of this combination is enthralling and charismatic, with some of the most expressive vocals I have ever heard. The instrumental aspects in no way take a back seat, as they are the root and backbone of ‘Mariner’, but the unexpectedly perfect fit that is Julie Christmas stole the show for me, and I sincerely hope that more bands venture into such profound territory.