There is no doubt that Cult of Luna is one of the most important bands in the post-metal scene of the early ’00s. Throughout the years, they have crafted new worlds and unexplored soundscapes, from the release of their debut self-titled album, to Vertikal in 2012. In their previous full-length, the band explored concepts addressed in the 1927 silent film Metropolis, establishing a mechanical and urban point of view of “the city.” For the follow-up to this idea, the band stated that they looked towards the stars and began their space exploration. Joining them in this sonic trip is Julie Christmas (previously of Made Out Of Babies and Battle of Mice), who brings some very nice additions to Mariner.
Christmas has been flying a bit under the radar lately, and her unique style has been missing from the extreme metal/hardcore scenes. Even though the record, all in all, feels like a Cult of Luna album rather than a collaboration, her presence gives a bit of an extra edge and some variety to the band’s concepts. Her versatility is astonishing, as she can morph her voice to appear melodic and soothing, in the start of “Chevron,” or crushing and unstable, screaming to eternity, as in the background of “The Wreck of SS Needle.”
It also addresses the protean status of Cult of Luna. Even though the band has not changed its sound drastically through the years, their structures are still able to accommodate a myriad of different elements. Their basis has always been rooted somewhere between the doom metal weight and the post-metal domain. The sludge manifestations are frequent, arriving with a darkened perspective in “A Greater Call,” or through a more glacial and pessimistic tone in “Approaching Transition.” This doom infusion goes hand in hand with the post-metal style, with the heavy lead parts, big bass and groove establishing the pristine sound of the band. Through the various moments of Mariner, they are able to travel through dissonant and heavy parts, coming down with much force as in “Cygnus,” to more melodic and emotive instances.
That is also the most important weapon in their arsenal: the melodic tendency, and its appropriate use through the album. Those are not mere hooks to grab your attention for a few seconds, they are meticulously thought out and placed in key moments of the record, awakening a range of emotions with their appearance. Heavy riffs are brilliantly coupled with the lead work, allowing the tracks to reach intense peaks, as in “Cygnus,” subtle melodies to bring a majestic quality to the front in “Chevron,” or a coalition of worlds in “The Wreck of SS Needle” with the vocals of Christmas clashing with the guitar parts.
However, as Cult of Luna mentioned, Mariner is an exploration of space, and not an album dedicated to the mechanical setting of “the city.” The setting becomes increasingly important for this aspect to work, and Cult of Luna pay attention in crafting the appropriate scenery for their work in a more straightforward and welcoming sense with “A Greater Call.” However, there are mutations that occur along the way, as the synths of “Approaching Transition” take on a more spacey tone, the processed vocals oozing with an otherworldly atmosphere. Tribal extensions appear in “Cygnus,” while a colder tone is also present in the start of “The Wreck of SS Needle,” bringing to mind a more industrial setting. Still, it is the psychedelic aura that brings in the “space” tone necessary for such a trip. The use of effects throughout the album are subtle, working great alongside the heavy structure, and granting a hazy quality to the parts. At times, it even feels like a strange trip to the ’70s, as the tone becomes more old-school, but overall the band’s subtle approach works.
Through the years, Cult of Luna have been consistent. Even though their works do not deviate much, they have been able to always sound interesting, and to never tire the listener. Their vision of post-metal remains unique today, filled with heavy moments, melodic lead work, psychedelic influences and intriguing themes. Mariner follows this tradition, and is another excellent chapter in the band’s discography.