At first blush, Mariner — a collaborative album between the Swedish post-metal band Cult Of Luna and the Brooklyn-based singer Julie Christmas — seems like a case of odd bedfellows. Seven standalone LPs into their career, Cult Of Luna’s chief musical hallmark is a sort of heavy metal equanimity. They trade in methodical, thoroughly textured build-and-burst songs that sound like they take place thousands of miles above the sturm und drang of human affairs. By contrast, Christmas has built a reputation as one of the most ferociously emotive blood-and-guts vocalists that heavy music has produced in the last few decades, with a voice that can snap from eerily childlike crooning to a throat-damaging screech in an instant. Though she’s been semi-retired since her excellent 2010 solo record The Bad Wife, her string of crushing studio performances in the mid-to-late aughts — mostly with the volatile noise rock band Made Out Of Babies — remains one of my favorite creative runs in recent music history.
Superficially, Christmas’ schizophrenic delivery seems like an odd match for Cult Of Luna’s astral plod, but it’s not without precedent in her catalog, as she did great work fronting the supergroup-y post-metal project Battle of Mice. Her dynamism works even better over Cult Of Luna’s sparser soundscapes, lending their tectonic shifts in mood an uncomfortably personal physicality — as ever, Christmas sounds like she’s screaming at you from about an inch away from your face whenever the claws come out. But that’s not how much of “The Wreck Of S.S. Needle” plays out, and she matches the band’s slow burn with breathy whispers and moans for much of the song’s first half.
Its most thrilling moments, however, arrive when Christmas combines her varied delivery and skills as an arranger with Cult Of Luna’s penchant for patiently building tension. The song concludes with a massive full-band landslide, atop which Christmas layers a haunting mass of harmonies and screams. It’s been great to hear Christmas get back into the music game via guest spots for acts like Pigs and Spylacopa, but hearing her go all-out in combination with a linchpin act like Cult Of Luna is a thrilling reminder of how much both she and the band can bring to the table. Listen.
Mariner is out 4/15 via Indie Recordings.