Cult of Luna are a band with nothing left to prove. Over a career spanning eighteen years, seven studio albums, three EPs and an audiobook, the Swedish sextet from Umea have evolved from just another band playing post-metal to an unclassifiable monstrosity of an act, their art revolving around heady themes and sweeping, epic compositions that can quite literally take your breath away. 2013’s sixth studio album, Vertikal, was a cold, sprawling behemoth of an album, inspired by Fritz Lang’s seminal 1927 movie Metropolis. So where exactly does a band who’ve stretched the limits of their earthly creativity turn to when they’ve tackled the most monstrous of all humanity’s achievements, the megacity?
The answer, obviously, is space. Enlisting the aid of veteran vocalist Julie Christmas, the band have expanded their sound past anything they’ve attempted in the past. Mariner is a concept album, much the same way most Cult of Luna albums are concept albums, with a theme and often a story unfolding as it plays.
On the theme of Mariner, the band had this to say:
At the end of Vertikal, we stood in the cold harshness of the mechanical city and looked up onto the stars. We lost ourselves in the awe of their grace and thought that maybe the answer is to be found above. The ship was leaking and by the look of it, our home was dying. No room for fear when a greater call demands your full attention. So, we left… Onward, forward. Like the old seafarers, we explored the vastness of space. Not bound by physical laws we pass the speed of light and chase the expansion of space until we reach its limit. And then, we continued on and disappeared. This is our story.
And so it is. If Vertikal was about the brutal, machine like nature of the megacity, Mariner is about leaving behind the familiar and safe confines of said city to explore the unknown, perhaps someday to return. Perhaps not.
Mariner opens with a minimalistic guitar melody, opening into droning chords and dual vocal lines from both Johannes Persson and Julie Christmas. It’s with this track that Mariner establishes itself as at once both intimately familiar and profoundly different. It sounds like a Cult of Luna album, and that’s good, but it also sounds unlike anything else Cult of Luna have ever recorded. Christmas’s voice lends an entirely new element to the band’s well-honed sound. Her esoteric lyrics and organic, natural vocals help separate Mariner from the brutal, mechanical nature of Vertikal. Her voice cracks and wavers, sounding like you’re in the booth with her as she records her vocal lines. Other times it’s creepily layered, complemented by eerie atmospherics from the band.
Speaking of atmospherics, Cult of Luna once again leverage a variety of clean guitar lines and layered synths contrasted against the crashing guitar riffs to create an ebb and flow that pulls you forward, making a fifty-five minute album seem shorter than it really is. With only five tracks, Mariner has no filler, and while the album is incredibly cohesive as a package, every song feels unique, possessed of it’s own character that sets it apart from the others.
Cult of Luna have a track record of incredible sounding albums, from a production and mastering standpoint, and Mariner does not buck that trend, thankfully. Everything has it’s place in the mix and no one instrument or voice takes precedence above the others. Having so many layers and tracks can ruin an album without the production to handle them, but Cult of Luna once again manage to perfectly balance their signature sound with the new added elements to make an immensely listenable album that begs to be devoured over and over again.
Mariner is proof that post-metal is not a stagnant genre, and Cult of Luna are not a stagnant band. Calling on eighteen years of experience in the genre, Cult of Luna have crafted what could potentially be their crowning achievement, unless they manage to follow it up with something even better. Only time will tell.