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The 25 Best Metal Albums of 2010 – 2019, #25: Cult of Luna & Julie Christmas, Mariner

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MetalSucks recently polled nearly 180 prominent metal musicians and industry insiders to determine The 25 Best Metal Albums of 2010 – 2019! (You can read all about the voters and the methodology behind the poll here.) Over the next few weeks, we’ll be counting down the entire list, one entry per day.

Things kick off today with Mariner (Indie Recordings), the 2016 collaboration between Cult of Luna and Julie Christmas!

Given the level of esteem commanded by both the Swedish sextet Cult of Luna and the American singer Julie Christmas (Made Out of Babies, Battle of Mice, etc.), expectations for Mariner were always high. Still, it’s safe to say that no one expected the collaboration to yield such a top caliber result. Supergroups are almost never as great as the sum of their parts. Yet it’s not overstating it to call Mariner a masterpiece, a record that will define the canons of CoL and Christmas moving forward as much as anything they’ve ever made.

Musically, Mariner is very much in line with Cult of Luna’s previous albums, an immersive, IMAX-sized sojourn into the deepest, darkest depths of psychedelic post-metal. But Christmas’ multi-faceted performance — at once playful, pleading, commanding, and childlike — adds a whole other dimension to their work. Never before have Cult of Luna had such emotive vocals; Christmas is the missing ingredient that wasn’t even really missing but somehow makes the whole thing that much better.

Mariner was reportedly heavily inspired by Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssesy — the lyrics convey a loose narrative about space travel — and it shares many of that film’s qualities. It is not a simple, pat piece that can be understood after experiencing it only once, but one that rewards multiple deep-dives; there’s a strong argument to be made that, like 2001, Mariner may be best understood on an emotional level, not an intellectual one; and after an endlessly-intriguing set-up (is Christmas taunting or encouraging the listener as she instructs them to “Put me down where I can see you run” on “S.S. Needle”?), it builds to a hypnotic crescendo: Mariner‘s equivalent of the 2001 “Star Gate” sequence is the last five-plus minutes of “Cygnus,”a relatively short, simple piece of music that repeats on a loop while constantly expanding, adding vocals lines, and growing more chaotic. It’s perplexing and mesmerizing in all the best ways.

Only time will tell if Cult of Luna and Julie Christmas will ever attempt another team-up. But in the likely event that Mariner never gets a sequel, it sure as hell won’t be because nobody liked the first one.

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