Band:Cult of Luna and Julie Christmas
Best song: “Cygnus” is a perfect, epic song.
Worst song:”Approaching Transition” is the weakest song, but it’s very good (sorry, I almost only write about records I like).

What’s beyond the next mountain? What lies among the stars? Why go beyond the horizon? Is exploration an inherent part of humanity’s makeup? Does it matter?

There is a conventional wisdom notion that the age of exploration was built into the human need to go and, yes, explore, but there’s probably a more realistic – and cynical, I guess – notion that said age of exploration (or age of discovery, which is a really eurocentric notion) was largely built by moneyed interests in search of commerce. Christopher Columbus, for example, might have really wanted to explore, but Isabel and Fernando mostly wanted to bulk up their kingdom’s coffers. The rest, as they say, is genocidal history.

Why is the discovery/exploration thing so attractive, though? The first (and dominant and probably correct) notion is that greed is part of humanity somehow, no matter the resource. But, the more romantic (albeit probably false) notion is that reaching beyond is a way toward freedom, a way toward enlightenment and a way to find oneself. Travel, after all, broadens the mind.

Space, to that end, is part of this. While the space race of the mid-20th century is not something that was a race to get moon rock resources (though, who knows?), it was a race to beat the other pole of world power (in the case of the U.S. against the U.S.S.R.) to stake a theoretical claim among the stars. Now, there’s a cynical notion that we (NASA, I guess, is “we.” Or the U.S., more broadly) are trying to get to the Moon or Mars because the Earth is dying and we need a place to hang out when the seas swallow us, but there’s also the (conspiracy?) theory that bad actors like Elon Musk wants to get to space to get resources out there. Many a piece of motion picture art has been made about this, most notably the unctuous Avatar series, the newest of which comes out this coming weekend.

This idea of exploration goes back as long as humanity does, from Abraham leaving his home to the Vikings to Odysseus to the space race. And the more romantic notions of it have never left. I don’t know that they ever wil.


Cult of Luna’s collaboration album with Jule Christmas (ex-Made Out of Babies, one of the great noise bands of this century) is a near-hour of sonically high-flying exploration that moves between dense, reverb-soaked and dry as a Tatooine dune. Christmas’ work as a noise singer and frontwoman compliments Cult of Luna’s deep post-metal brilliantly; she’s more varied here than on anything, perhaps save her solo record.

I know I use the phrase a lot regarding opening tracks, but I cannot help but say that “A Greater Call” is a statement of purpose. It builds for a full track’s worth of soft arpeggios and atmosphere (2:30ish) into the harmonized Johannes Persson/Christmas vocals (Persson screams, Christmas plaintively sings). As song builds with heavy riffs, a deep rhythm and electronics, filling eight minutes of post-metal brilliance.

The record’s theme of space exploration was part of the band’s announcement of the record:

“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.
This is part of the lyrics and the concept album nature of the record can be traced, like a Mastodon album, loosely and via the listener’s piecing it all together. Tommy, this is not. And for good reason, as the record’s lyrics can be a larger jumping voice off point for Chrsitmas’ vocal range. “The Wreck of S.S. Needle” features a chorus that brings out Christmas’ best Made Out of Babies rasp-at-top-volume vocals; her voice is at its best when it is both melodic and piercing. The song’s stutter drums and soaring guitars remind me as much of Godspeed You! Black Emperor as they do late-career ISIS and Sumac, down to the riffing in the song’s coda.

But, “Cygnus,” the record’s final song, is – as Persson noted in an interview, the sound of the end of the universe – an opus of atmospheric post-metal. It’s a coruscating 15-minute epic that devolves into a jam/mantra coda. The song’s different movements evoke something a northern European classical composer would assemble, but the song’s riff changes are as much Red Sparrowes as they are anything else. The song eventually features what sounds like the best of guitar virtuosity; in any other song, I’d probably call it Steve Vai nonsense, but it backs up Christmas’ doubled vocals for a minute in which she brings forward the beautiful rhythm of comparative nonsense lyrics (if you’re not aware of the poetry of the space, of course).

To write a letter to the night
This songless, sightless, silent giant
This feeble plea
A speck of dust
A drop of sea
It’s locked in you and me
Rip it out and feel it’s heat
Forget the way things seem to be;
Meaningless to the one and only
Persson’s scream-growl again plays the vocal foil to Christmas until the song slows to a strummed, tom-tom’d crawl nearly six minutes into the record. Like Kubrick’s final scenes in 2001, the song uses silence, pacing and build to ramp up to another climax – it’s a multi-climax song, if such a thing is possible. The ⅔ mark of the record turns into a scattering, screaming controlled chaos of Persson and Christmas vocals against a roll around the drum kit and screaming guitars, until it spends the final part of the song in a post-metal orgy of driving riffs, classic post-rock additions and Christmas almost monotoning what turns into a mantra against her own harmonies as the band goes beyond the stars.

Leave her to sing her withered songs In tunnels painted like the dawn
To write a letter to the night
This sightless, songless, silent giant.

Christmas herself builds the intensity until she’s fully belting by the end of the song. Dynamics have never been done the same way, making the record a true classic.

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  • About Me

    I'm Ross Jordan Gianfortune. I am not a writer, but I sometimes write here about music and my life. I live in Washington, DC.

    I used to review each of Rolling Stone Magazine's top 500 albums of all time. Now I'm writing about albums I own.

    My work has appeared in The Washington Post, The Gazette, The Atlantic, Sno-Cone and a bunch of defunct zines.

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