Cult Of Luna and Julie Christmas, live in Leeds

Cult Of Luna head to Leeds University with guest vocalist Julie Christmas as part of this year's Damnation Festival

A generic shot of a crowd at a gig
(Image: © Katja Ogrin)

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Cult Of Luna’s Mariner proved to be a highlight amongst this year’s avant-metal releases, and their performance of the record in its entirety is without a doubt one of Damnation festival’s crown jewels this year.

Guest vocalist Julie Christmas’ unhinged, unabashedly intense presence is a light speed jump forwards for the role of women in this area of music. Mariner is not another permutation of the done to death gruff male/melodic female juxtaposition, instead it is a stress-test of endurance, on a concept record about space exploration that focuses on the denuded mental state of a crew out in space, rather than any idealised vision of sailing on intergalactic oceans.

In reality, mankind would be trapped in a claustrophobic metal box, and this performance, one of only five European dates that have drawn fans from far and wide around the world, turns the venue into something akin. With a stage bathed in dramatic lighting, the band silhouettes against a neon plain, the melodic opening refrain of A Greater Call details a cold, ambient expanse that owes much to past progressive legends. Christmas appears from the darkness, adding her haunted wail to singer/guitarist Johannes Persson’s bellicose roar at the eruption of the track.

Clad in a white, iridescent Barbarella dress, one of five made especially for each show, Christmas proceeds to tear it to pieces, ripping shreds off it in a cathartic release that stops just short of tearing her hair out. Four dates in, they have found their synergy, the strobing refrain of Chevron coming over as the sound of isolated radio waves in the void. Christmas’ voice is pushed to breaking point, reaching its apex in the crowning moment of glory that is the The Wreck Of S.S. Needle, its dystopian opening refrains of John Carpenter synth seething furiously as her voice creates stress fractures in the hull, nails down a blackboard backed by staccato, muscular riffing.

Just when you think the band have reached an apex of intensity they push it even further, absorbed by their adoring throng, the audience now a sea of heads bobbing in unison to the onstage meltdown, building toward the acceleration into hyper speed climactic Cygnus, Cult Of Luna’s ‘stargate’ moment, inspired heavily by 2001: A Space Odyssey. This band have spent the last 18 years creating an influential legacy. They have sought, and found transcendence, passing into unknown musical territories. For the few fans that travelled long distances to be held in the thrall of tonight’s momentous occasion, Mariner will prevail as a halcyon moment in the band’s history.