PICK OF THE WEEK: Cult of Luna, Julie Christmas meld massive powers together on ‘Mariner’

Photo by Pär Olofsson

Photo by Pär Olofsson0

Metal traditionally doesn’t lend itself very often to the duet. Yeah, there have been cases here and there, be it Ozzy and Lita Ford or Lemmy and Doro Pesch, but for the most part, this is an area left to other genres, while most metal bands and artists look to forge their stories as a single unit.

That said, Swedish post-metal outfit Cult of Luna and Brooklyn-based wailer Julie Christmas are taking the duet concept and blowing it into the stratosphere. They laugh at your one song where forces come together and craft an entire record together on the stunning new “Mariner.” Over five tracks and about 50 minutes, the two sides come together and inform these songs from their own narratives, their own points of view that meld for the overall greater concept, that being rising above this living space and expanding into the cosmos for the greatest journey ever. This doesn’t mean getting into a rocket ship. This means the body as vessel, and mind and spirit as guide, and a foray that would break most humans. But most people are not Cult of Luna and Christmas.

Mariner coverAs for Cult of Luna, this is the band’s eighth record overall (if you want to consider this part of their full-length canon and not a one-off collaborative effort) and their follow-up to 2013’s industrial landscape tale “Vertikal.” For nearly 20 years now, the band has made some of the most thought-provoking, atmospheric sounds in all of metal, and while so many have tried to ride their coattails, they remain a special, wholly identifiable entity. As for Christmas, she fronted greats bands such as Battle of Mice and Made of Babies, and six years ago (holy hell, it’s been that long?!), she gave us her debut full-length “The Bad Wife” that was absolutely captivating and volatile at the same time. These two sides together might not seem a natural mix on the surface, but put them together, and magic happens.

“A Greater Call” opens the record, an 8:19 start that lets noise bustle, calm and psyche colors blend in, and a gazey crash that erupts with Cult of Luna vocalist Johannes Persson launching into vicious roars, with Christmas’ soulful/scary singing sweltering behind everything. Much of the assault is mid-paced and telegraphs its punches before spilling into the cosmos. From there, the track bursts open, with sounds gushing and the track wrenching back to dual singing. “Chevron” runs 8:54, with a thick bassline pushing in, and Christmas sounding more sinister and dangerous. She shrieks and howls emotionally, with the song progressing volcanically, fiery playing spitting intensity, and later a psychedelic calm brushing in and cooling the skin. Christmas delivers a few last words, driving the end of the song into your heart. “The Wreck of the S.S. Needle” is one of the most fascinating songs on the record and one that swallowed me whole. Drone reaches out like a long cloud, while the elements threaten combustion. Once they erupt, Christmas is in the pocket of madness, howling away, reaching for your veins, and always finding a new gear of fire. The body of the song plays with dynamics, rising with force around one turn, bringing serenity after another. “Put me down where I can see you run,” Christmas repeats over and over, as the song spirals into the night and a deep fog.

“Approaching Transition” runs 12:59, and as far as I can discern, is the only track that doesn’t involve Christmas. Here, noise glazes, while heavy, dark synthesizers and an alien environment come into focus, especially with the vocals. The track is steeped in slow-driving sorrow, a shadowy beast lurking in the beyond, getting soaked by the drizzling, chilling rain. There are moments that have a Pink Floyd feel to them, but also curves that are dressed with furious tempos and smothering roars that bruise. The massive closer “Cygnus” spreads over 14:50 and also basks in cosmic lore, with Christmas’ singing leading in, and the melodies quivering. Persson’s growls then scrape, with proggy keys arriving and Christmas’ performance feeling like a blistering confessional that fills your chest with anxiety. “Open your mind, let air rush in,” she calls, just before a massive burst where she and Persson just go off, igniting everything with their power.  Her voice hypnotically loops on forever it seems, intertwining in the mission catching ablaze, each element burning off, and the end of your heart-swelling journey spiraling toward its end.

OK, so this might not be traditional duet material as we’ve come to understand it, but Cult of Luna and Christmas make incredible music together and align their visions expertly on “Mariner.” This record unfolds anew with every listen and is bound to be one of the most unique offerings of the entire calendar year. No one is to know if their paths will cross again creatively, but for this space in time, they prove enough weight and intensity to shake planets.

For more on the Cult of Luna, go here: http://www.cultofluna.com/

For more on Julie Christmas, go here: https://www.facebook.com/Julie-Christmas-141649579195453/

To buy the album, go here: http://shop.indierecordings.no/

For more on the label, go here: http://www.indierecordings.no/