Who would have thought that in 2016 we would be listening to a brand new album from post-metal giants Cult of Luna? Following the incredible Vertikal (which I believe is one of THE greatest releases in metal music history, hell one of the greatest albums ever!) Cult of Luna announced that they were going on an indefinite hiatus. To me and many others this meant they were finished, for good. Well I guess we were all wrong because nothing was going to keep these talented musicians away from the music business for too long. I could definitely guess the band’s state of mind when deciding to get back together again, they were probably thinking how the hell were they going to top the gargantuan monster known as Vertikal? Well, they must have thought “you gotta take it to space of course! Ain’t nothing bigger than space right?” and after further deliberation they must have discussed who would captain this exciting new journey to the farthest reaches of our galaxy. “Julie Christmas of course!” So, how does the band’s 2016 release Mariner fair? Let’s find out…
RELEASE DATE: 08 April 2016 LABEL: Indie Recordings
Cult of Luna is Johannes Persson on guitars and vocals, Magnus Lindberg on drums, Andreas Johansson on bass, Fredrik Kihlberg on guitars and vocals, Kristian Karlsson on keyboard and vocals, Thomas Hedlund on drums and percussion. Julie Christmas makes her collaborative debut with the band on vocals.
Cult of Luna sure know how to kick off an album and much like the opening of Vertikal which had the slow build of ‘The One’ leading into the monstrous ‘The Weapon’, Mariner begins much in the same way with ‘A Greater Call’. The first 2 minutes swell with spacey-sounding synths and simple delay-infused notes on the guitar leading into the explosive start of the song proper. We are greeted immediately by Julie’s vocals and I must say, getting her to collaborate on this album was simply inspired. Julie is has an incredible range and is able to go from angelic sounding to demonic, and everything in between at the drop of a hat. Also worth mentioning are the tasty riffs in ‘A Greater Call’ which are some of the best you will hear all year, and likely sharp enough to cut through steel!
‘Chevron’ is an altogether different beast from ‘A Greater Call’. This song is like a descent into madness, and boy has madness never sounded so HUGE. Julie really shines on this track and she takes the reigns for most of the track, peppered with the barbwired vocals of Johannes. What really makes this track sound huge is the wonderful use of keys and bass guitar. It is always welcoming to hear the bass guitar in a metal production, and I think the days of burying the bass guitar in a metal song are slowly becoming products of a bygone era. The keys around the 6 minute mark onward are especially well done and help raise the listener upwards to a more positive space following the previous minutes of utter lunacy and madness.
‘The Wreck of S.S. Needle’ sees Julie Christmas take full control of the ship. The track definitely exudes a sense of turbulence and danger as we journey further into the infinite void of space. Julie pours every ounce of energy she has into this track with her voice almost straining to the brink at times (but working really well in the context of the song though). The track meanders like a slow, slumbering beast with a wonderful Middle-Eastern-sounding chord progression driving the song along and adding to the mystique of the track.
‘Approaching Transition’ is fairly similar to the songs found on Vertikal; slow, mechanical, cerebral. The song is a fairly risky one though, coming off of the 3 previous tracks with their high energy. The band could easily have lost the interest of the listener with the slow-burn approach taken with ‘Approaching Transition’, but this is Cult of Luna we are talking about, the masters of the 10+ minute epic. The song lulls the listener into a hypnotic trance with simple strummed chords, swelling synth-keys and mechanical sounding clean vocals. Just as one is about to be transported to another realm by the hypnotic march of ‘Approaching Transition’, venomous guitars and growls explode in a cacophony of sound which kicks the listener hard in the stomach just to make sure they are still listening!
We finally come to the end of Mariner, with the epic ‘Cygnus’. It is fitting that this monstrous 14+ minute track ends the album off, being the longest track on Mariner we are also now long off from Earth and deep into the great unknown in this space odyssey. ‘Cygnus’ has a roughly three-act structure, with the 1st act having Julie draw the listener in with her hypnotic vocals and then Johannes beating the listener into the submission with a devastating vocal performance. The first section crescendos with a fantastic spacey-sounding guitar melody which could very well be the sound heard at the heart of a black hole. The 2nd act slows things down a notch or two. Eerie-sounding swells of synth pepper this section, with a driving drum beat moving things along. This 2nd act conjures up visions of one floating in the cold vastness of space, or possibly adrift between dimensions whilst stuck in a wormhole. The 2nd act is of course the calm before the storm, with the 3rd act exploding at around the 8 minute mark. Julie sounds like a woman possessed, screaming her lungs out and the overdub of Johannes atop her performance is truly Earth-shaking. The 3rd act plays out with a glorious crescendo of riffs, synths and crashing drums, bringing the journey of Mariner to a satisfying close.
I can’t think of many bands that have put out a trilogy of genre defining albums, but Cult of Luna have done it, with Eternal Kingdom, Vertikal and now Mariner forming part of one hell of a trio. It could very well be argued that Mariner is Cult of Luna’s finest album to date, the culmination of their vision and sound, enhanced and taken that one step further by the incredible collaborative efforts of Julie Christmas. Mariner is absolutely an album of the year contender, standing head and shoulders above most of the releases of 2016 so far. Cult of Luna have taken us to a harsh post-apocalyptic city in Vertikal and now the great beyond of our galaxy in Mariner, but where to next for them? I am not sure but, whatever it is, just know it will be one hell of a journey.