In 2014, at Beyond the Redshift festival, Cult of Luna concluded their business and walked off stage leaving an uncertain future ahead of them. Two line up shifts helped to precipitate the band’s hiatus – the unexpected loss of keyboardist Anders Teglund (replaced by Kristian Karlsson of PG Lost) and the more planned loss of founding member Erik Olofsson who was subsequently replaced by David Johansson of Kongh – and the band simply decided that the relentless pace that had been set around the release of ‘Vertikal’ was no longer sustainable. A return to action was always on the cards, however, and, following on from the well-received split EP with The Old Wind, Cult Of Luna are back with a remarkable new outing entitled ‘Mariner’. A collaboration with Julie Christmas, an American artist formerly of Made out of Babies and Battle of Mice, ‘Mariner’ is a relentless masterwork that brings the very best from both artists. A spacey, epic and endlessly inventive piece of music that flows effortlessly from start to finish, it showcases a different set to dynamics to those seen on ‘vertikal’ and, arguably, sees the band at the very peak of their game.
Emerging out of a gentle haze, ‘A greater call’ drifts in a post-rock reverie, all echoing noise and subtle guitar wrapped up in a blanket of reverb. It takes a full three minutes before a roar from the darkness smashes the ambience and announces the arrival of an immense tribal beat that draws the track forward into hitherto unseen corners of Cult of Luna’s sonic universe. Julie Christmas’ vocals add to the air of mystery, sympathetically mixed so that they emerge from the surging guitars and yet remain an integral part of the track rather than an afterthought. It immediately shows the genius of this pairing and her vocals add an air of otherworldliness to the release which is emphasized yet further as the track segues into the weird, futuristic groove of ‘chevron’. A shift away from the decayed urban soundscapes of ‘Vertikal’, ‘Chevron’ (and the album as a whole) sees Cult of Luna drifting into the unknown. With the track slipping in and out of alternate realities, Julie inhabits a hitherto unexplored dimension whilst Cult of Luna deal in ferocious tidal surges of guitars that collapse upon the listener like the quaking walls of an unstable black hole. The sound is no less inventive than long-time fans of the band have come to expect, and yet Julie’s presence appears to have opened up new vistas for the band which they explore with starry-eyed fervour, pushing themselves to new creative heights in the process. The journey heads into 2010 territory as Cult of Luna come across a long-abandoned hulk in ‘the wreck of S.S Needle’ in an exercise in tension building that draws upon the throbbing bass of John Carpenter before bulding into a truly wonderful exercise in blissful noise that sees Julie’s voice multi-tracked into a celestial choir that is hauntingly beautiful.
A subtle track that focuses on atmosphere, ‘approaching transition’ sees Cult of Luna exploring a similar sonic territory to latter-day Mogwai with pulsing, digital percussion and filtered vocals echoing in a glittering darkness. It’s easy to imagine it the soundtrack to an expedition, lost amidst some vast alien landscape, abandoned far from the safety and security of a bustling world, and Julie’s absence from the bulk of the track only accentuates the sense of loneliness that washes over the music. Only building to a terrifying climax after a lengthy build up, ‘approaching the transition’ is Cult of luna at their most restrained. In contrast, the album closer, ‘Cygnus’, sees Cult of Luna at their most magnificent and expansive. Huge guitars trade blows across the vast expanse of space and Julie Christmas, back from exile, sits at the heart of the track, her vocals once again elevating the track ever further above the ordinary to make something truly ethereal in nature.
There is a degree of bravery in this collaboration, and it is clear from the outset the mutual respect that exists between the artists. Julie Christmas fits into the sonic framework of Cult of Luna as if she’s always been there and the band, in turn, have pushed the limits of their sound yet further. After a short period of self-imposed exile Cult of Luna have returned refreshed and more potent than ever and ‘Mariner’ stands at the very peak of their impressive back catalogue. A highlight for both artists, ‘Mariner’ is an inspired collaboration and an absolute treasure of a record.