Valby Hallen, Copenhagen, DEN - 26/4
Cult Of Luna & Julie Christmas
Written by: AP on 21/04/2016 15:13:56
It must be the Chinese year of the collaborative record, given the number of these joint ventures happening of late. Over the past six months or so, artists as diverse as The Body and Full of Hell, Boris and Merzbow, Dragged Into Sunlight and Gnaw Their Tongues, Iggy Pop and Joshua Homme, and Jesu and Sun Kil Moon have come together in forward-thinking endeavours designed to breathe fresh intrigue into these acts, and uphold their reputation for always pushing the envelope. In the case of Cult of Luna, few can deny that there was a hint of stagnation lurching within the otherwise solid foldings of 2013’s “Vertikal” LP, and as such, the announcement that the six musicians would unite with Julie Christmas for their seventh studio album “Mariner” was received with tremendous approval by the Swedish post-metal group’s disciples. Some of those aforementioned partnerships did not have the sort of outcome people were expecting, but at the risk of giving away too much too early, the introduction of Christmas into Cult of Luna’s dark, enigmatic soundscapes yields phenomenal results on “Mariner”.
In terms of its personality and eclecticism, Christmas’ voice has few equals, and the way she immerses herself in Cult of Luna’s storytelling, juggling between sweet and girlish, yet devious singing, otherworldly shamanic intones, and eruptions of raving madness, may just be the missing piece needed to restore the band to its former grandeur. Indeed, between “A Greater Call”, “The Wreck of S.S. Needle” and “Cygnus” you want to recommend every track as essential listening, with each of those tracks exposing some of the best material Cult of Luna has ever produced — certainly in league with the classic “Somewhere Along the Highway” from 2006, and just as distinctive with regard to sound, atmosphere and tectonics. But although Christmas is pivotal in lifting “Mariner” to preeminence, the role of the traditional Cult’ line-up must not be devalued either; she paints the music in fresh colours, but rest assured, the six other musicians are also operating at the apex of their abilities, to the extent that even if Christmas had no part in the album, “Mariner” would still rank amongst the post-metal royalty. In fact, the instrumental portions (as well as the growling vocals) were recorded independently in Cult of Luna’s hometown of Umeå, Sweden before they were sent to Christmas, and after elaborating on the thematic and musical direction the band was pursuing, she was given full artistic liberty to then interpret and involve herself in the songs as she best saw fit.
Cult of Luna have always mastered the art of building tension with sophisticated and vivid cinematics, and then releasing it through a breathtaking upsurge on all channels, and the music has thus tended to possess a transcendental quality. But seldom have their creations been as sweeping, as riveting, as comprehensive in their domineering of the listener as in the five tracks that comprise “Mariner” — and that epiphany is made all the more striking by the fact that “Mariner” is the first ‘Luna album since 2004’s “Salvation” not to feature a third guitarist or second drummer. That the band manages to expand the music to such staggering proportions regardless is a humbling testimony to their audiophiliac penchant for song composition. Every nuance is given room to breathe and evolve, so that even in the most vociferous crescendo in the closing monolith “Cygnus” — with both guitarists (Frederik Kihlberg & Johannes Persson) growling, Christmas singing, and the full band combining to offer its take on what the “Star Gate” sequence in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey could sound like — the music never threatens to collapse under its own weight.
On the contrary, “Mariner” seems only to swell as the minutes clock in, a sensation heightened by stacking the songs in such a way that they gradually increase in length from the ‘mere’ eight minutes of “A Greater Call” to the nigh-fifteen of “Cygnus”. As stilted as it sounds, it feels like listening to the universe expand, and all the ebb-and-flow between tranquillity and violence that the process entails — which is oddly coincidental if, like me, you listen to the album without reading Persson’s own explanation of the conceptual framework as a journey into the unknown:
What we were trying to put across (…) was the sound of us penetrating the outer-outer limits of space. (…) It’s how we imagine it would be to cross that final limit of the universe. Then we continue on into darkness and disappear.
One could spend entire paragraphs just milking the individual songs for all they have to give, and describing in detail why the 55 minutes that “Mariner” runs are likely to be spent at the edge of your seat. But as ever, the only way really to attach credibility to the superlatives it evokes is to experience it for yourself — and preferably through some serious hi-fi equipment. With the extra seasoning of Christmas’ unorthodoxy, “Mariner” pushes Cult of Luna’s designs further than ever before and almost effortlessly earns itself the title of a landmark release — and not just with respect to Cult of Luna’s own repertoire. Rarely does post-metal manage to sound this engrossing and singular, and if the genre ever leaves you disillusioned through saturation and monotony, “Mariner” is there to address your concerns.
Download: A Greater Call, The Wreck of S.S. Needle, Cygnus
For the fans of: Isis, Mouth of the Architect, Rosetta, Year Of No Light
Release date 08.04.2016