I’ve always been a fan of an “all-in, for-keeps” collaborative album. Recent examples from Thou and Emma Ruth Rundle, as well as Converge and a Chelsea Wolfe earlier this month demonstrate how creatively inspired they can be when approached sincerely. When a collaboration really works, it doesn’t matter what genres or writing styles the artists come from, the result is something both familiar and fresh.
As far as I am concerned, ‘Mariner’, the 2016 collaborative effort between Cult of Luna and US singer Julie Christmas, is the absolute best example of this. It is a triumph for both parties and, without question, one of the greatest albums of the last decade to my ears.
Cult of Luna’s musicianship here is in top form, with ‘Mariner’ easily being amongst their best performances. It carries all the hallmarks of modern Cult of Luna – crushing riffs, devastating vocals from Persson, and big, grand, compositions with multiple passages.
But the addition of Julie Christmas has such a transformative presence in amongst the wall of noise that the entire DNA of the sound seems to change around her. Her voice can shift from gentle and almost innocent to frenzied wailing in moments, and every time it manages to be the perfect counter to Persson’s roars. The interplay between the two vocalists is one of the central highlights of Mariner, be it in a back and forth, or simultaneous delivery.
Conceptually, ‘Mariner’ is about deep space exploration, and musically that is felt throughout. These songs (of which there are just five, totalling nearly an hour) are huge exploratory pieces, with shifting by soundscapes of dreamlike beauty coupled with Cult of Luna’s signature crushing sound. The very specific approach to the music here sets it apart from Cult of Luna’s catalogue and, for me personally, makes for the best work they’ve produced.
Cult of Luna have always been (and continue to be) an absolutely incredible band with an amazing track record, but their collaboration with Julie Christmas remains their greatest work to date.
There are very few albums I’d classify as beyond a 10/10, but there are some. These are albums that will suit any day, mood, or purpose. They are albums I consider genuinely flawless.
‘Mariner’ is one such album. Perfect.