How a Swedish Metal Band and Brooklyn Singer Made a Heady Masterpiece
Johannes Persson, guitarist and vocalist for Swedish metal act Cult of Luna, first met singer Julie Christmas face to face last September, when his band played a rare U.S. live date at New York City’s Gramercy Theatre. The Brooklyn-based Christmas, who has made a name for herself as the elastic-voiced frontwoman for outfits like Made Out of Babies and Battle of Mice, was in attendance, and that night marked the first time the two hung out – even though they had already been recording an album, the newly released collaborative effort Mariner, together for roughly a year.
“I think we were about halfway done by that point,” Christmas recalls. “But you know, the Internet changed everything. You can work with people across the world and never even see their faces.” She laughs, and then takes a light dig at her new Scandinavian associates. “Or even know how to pronounce their names!”
Persson, for his part, had been keen to work with Christmas for a long time. The roots of their collaboration, in fact, stretch back several years, to when Cult of Luna were asked to curate a London-based festival called Beyond the Redshift. Persson and his band mates invited Christmas, then working as a solo artist, to appear on the bill. “She wasn’t able to do the show, so I asked for her phone number, and we got to talking about doing something together,” he says. “Because I just love Julie’s singing. She can go from the softest melodies to the wildest screams, and everything in between. The range of her voice is incredible.”
That incredible voice is all over the new Mariner, which finds Christmas adding yet another texture – or, given her vocal dexterity, many textures – to Cult of Luna’s already intensely layered sound. The Swedish outfit’s seventh full-length overall, Mariner, like much of Cult of Luna’s catalog, is an immersive and dynamic ride, with five epic-length tracks unfolding, often quite slowly, across more than 50 minutes of music. It’s an approach that has led to the band being labeled as “post-metal,” something of a catchall for heavy acts (see: Neurosis; the now-defunct ISIS) that tend toward atmosphere and ambience rather than verses and choruses, sprawl and shading rather than concision and hooks. But, says Persson, “We’ve never considered ourselves a part of any of that. If anything, we came from the punk and hardcore scene, and that’s the only one we’ve ever felt is ours. When we put out our first album [2001’s Cult of Luna], I never knew that any ‘post-whatever’ scene existed. But I guess putting a label on things, people need that. It’s consumer information. But it’s not like we’re sitting down and saying, ‘Let’s make a post-metal album.’ We are just writing songs.”
When it came to writing and recording the songs for Mariner, the band worked, per usual, in a studio near their hometown of Umea, on Sweden’s eastern coast. They then sent demos and tracks to Christmas, who wrote her own lyrics and recorded her vocals with producer Andrew Schneider at his studio in Brooklyn’s Coney Island. “We just figured out how to work together over the space of an ocean and the time frame of a year,” Christmas says.