I have a weird relationship with this band. Overall I deem them one of the best on the planet. They have provided me with countless hours of bliss while listening to their music. But as a whole, I only really like half of their discography.
Their first two albums never really managed to stick in my ears for some reason. I can’t quite pinpoint what doesn’t click with them for me, but it is like it is. Their third offering Salvation was one of the biggest revelations I ever experienced as a music lover. It’s an album I listened for multiple replays almost daily in years past because I liked it so goddamn much. And it still is one of the best albums I’ve ever heard.
Unfortunately, the follow up Somewhere Along the Highway didn’t manage to keep what they promised with Salvation. At least to me. I know that album has its fans, but I just never could get warm with it. So you can imagine how ambivalent I felt when they announced Eternal Kingdom. Fortunately for me, it turned out to be an instant classic and soon dethroned Salvation as my favorite of theirs.
After quite a few years of no new material – save for some ambient music released as part of an audio book version of Eternal Kingdom – fans were finally graced with a new album. Vertikal took things in an entirely different direction. Still recognizably Cult of Luna, but it represented quite an evolution for the band. And as it seems, that evolution hasn’t ended just yet.
Mariner was announced a few months ago with little fanfare and only hardcore fans like myself anticipated the release. It’s not every day you get a new Cult of Luna release, you know. But this time, there’s a twist in the mix. They teamed up with American singer Julie Christmas, of whom I haven’t heard before this. And what a collaboration this is! I wasn’t too sure what to think at first because I wasn’t used to listening to Cult of Luna’s type of music with female vocals, but after listening to the album, she’s definitely a standout feature here and not just used as a crutch.
While the opening A Greater Call only makes rudimentary use of her talents and probably serves as a proper transition for long-time Cult of Luna fans into this new period, the second song Chevron serves to finally introduce her properly. Unfortunately it didn’t manage to stick with me all that much, at least from this first run through
This all changed once The Wreck of S.S. Needle rolled around. This is what truly showcases Christmas’ talents as a singer. Between gorgeously sung passages and absolutely voice-ruining screams she basically covers all the bases there are to cover when you’re a good vocalist. She manages to produce melodies of absolute clarity, even whilst making completely illogical tonal jumps in front of weird chord progressions. And once things get a bit more streamlined – read: stompy and aggressive – she lets loose earth shattering screams. It’s truly a perfect showcase for her talents.
The fourth song Approaching Transition is unfortunately another dip in quality. It’s a bit too repetitive for my tastes and it doesn’t have a payoff that’s worth sitting through 13 minutes. I guess maybe it’s just there to build up mood and I hope it’ll grow on me over time, but as of yet, I’m not impressed.
The final track on the CD however redeems all of those earlier shortcomings. Cygnus starts out in a way that’s almost black metal-esque, with guitars reminiscent of the sound Secrets of the Moon or Deathspell Omega utilize. But after that it quickly returns to Cult of Luna territory and approaches sheer apocalyptic dimensions. Tons of layered guitars and voices provide an auditory experience I’ve yet to come by and would represent a perfect ending to any album.
However, since I’m a good and loyal fan, I also bought the vinyl version which comes with a bonus track. Unfortunately, it’s entirely superfluous. It’s basically an ambient sound collage stretched over 12 minutes. I already didn’t like it when Mar de Grises basically did the same thing on their album Draining The Waterheart and time hasn’t sweetened the deal.
So unfortunately from my very early impressions, I can only call half of this album truly great. It’s not like the rest is terrible, please don’t take that message away from this review, just that it didn’t rock my world like the three phenomenal tracks on here did. I hope that Chevron will grow on me and that I’ll see the point behind Approaching Transition eventually. But I’m fairly confident that the bonus track Beyond the Redshift is entirely superfluous and I’m kinda glad they left it off the CD version.