Metal is often filled with chaotic dynamics, eclectic instrumentation and daunting displays of virtuosity. In such a musical climate, it is a feat to take repeating, simple motifs and craft them into engaging, emotive songs. Post-metal outfit Cult of Luna are one of but a few acts with the passion and song craft to take sparse arrangements and transform them into epics. On Mariner, released on April 7 through Density Records and Indie Recordings, the Swedish six-piece collaborate with American vocalist Julie Christmas to create a haunting, cinematic record that is huge, monolithic and incredible in its own respect.
Opening with the eight minute “A Greater Call,” Cult of Luna & Julie Christmas introduce a fifty-five minute, five track concept record, exploring outer space. Starting with ambient keys and reverb soaked drums, a droning effect increases in intensity with each repetition of the main motif, building tension over nearly three minutes before Christmas’ hooky yet haunting vocals are matched by aggressive screams, ringing guitars and pounding drums. A simple, chugging riff builds into the most ominous chorus I have heard in some time. It is immediately apparent that collaborating with Christmas brings an entirely new level of emotional intensity to Cult of Luna’s work, and this opening track sets the stage for the sonic journey of the remaining four tracks.
“Chevron” opens with pounding toms and a punk-influenced bass line underlying Christmas’ melodies. Ambient guitars complement the section before Christmas’s jarringly broken screams command the direction of the song. Her versatility as a vocalist brings a new level of anger, passion and vulnerability to Cult of Luna’s sometimes Mastodon-esque riffing and tense, sparse arrangements. This song drifts seamlessly from angry, unhinged sections to droning, jangling guitars and atmospheric keys.
Just under fifteen minutes, the epic “Cygnus” closes the album with a creeping, malignant march with near whispered, cracked vocals further conveying the dramatic tone of the song. One of my favorite sections of the song features a heavily processed tapping part that contributes to the darkly psychedelic vibe of the record. Dramatic, intense and dynamic, “Cygnus” closes Mariner in a fashion that reiterates every element that has made the album so notably excellent.
Though each song on the record ranges from eight to fifteen minutes, the band locks into hypnotizing grooves with just enough development and layering to maintain a listener’s interest. Due to the length of the songs, the album only spans five tracks, and still manages to create a satisfying and thought-provoking experience. To me, this album was an education in the art of minimalism; Cult of Luna & Julie Christmas tastefully employ haunting, crushingly slow riffs and build them to intense climaxes that are counterpointed by the haunting beauty of Christmas’ unique and masterfully diverse vocal delivery. Mariner has potential to be an instant post-metal classic, and I cannot wait to hear the next chapter in Cult of Luna’s impressive development as a band. It is my hope that this future continues to bring collaboration with Julie Christmas.
Notable Tracks: “A Greater Call,” “Cygnus.”
FFO: Battle of Mice, Isis.