Red Mountains
Slow Wander

I really couldn’t claim that I knew a lot of Norwegian doom until Purple Hill Witch’s debut long player crushed my heart in that early Hellhound Records’/Count Raven style that always alternated effortlessly between melodic and flesh ripping riffage (with vocals and rhythmic crunch to match).  Their mates of state Red Mountains won me over with their 2015 debut Down with the Sun and thanks to their sophomore LP Slow Wander I further writhe in the black widow’s web.  Top tier songwriting, powerhouse riffs, killer vocal melodies and lush drum/bass arrangements prove that making a killer, tune-centered doom/riff-rock record in 2017 is a highly achievable goal if the focus is cemented on songcraft and sonic might.

The record creeps to life with the sinewy, psychedelic storm ride of “Home.”  A backwards phased drone crumble gives way to slow, aching doom chords, plodding percussion and heaving basslines as the material slithers but ultimately projects itself loud and clear thanks to monstrous clean tones and a production job that sounds like it’s out of Sunlight Studios.  At the helm stands guitarist/vocalist Magnus Riise’s hearty Swedish-sheened croon that soars over the music without being cheesy or operatic.  Right off the bat the huge riff sounds of Count Raven, sorely underrated kraut bruisers Magnified Eye, Terra Firma, Revelation’s Yet so Far, Pentagram circa Be Forewarned, Sheavy, early Church of Misery (hell, even a little Master of Brutality and Second Coming later on in the album), Acrimony, Abdullah, Pale Divine and Place of Skulls appear on the overcast horizon, though blackness gives way to periodic hues of light much in the vein of the aforementioned thundermakers.   Rhythm guitar riffs often have polished leads inlaid atop them and the solos twist n’ turn in eerie yet inviting caterwauls, proving the guitar team of Riise and Jostein Wigenstad are a more than able duo.  Drummer Simen Mathiassen keeps things tightly in the pocket but knows when to step out front with bone-cracking snare fills that transition to steady war marches on the toms as bassist Sverre Dalen maintains a hulking pulse.  It’s a perfectly tripped-out opener that collides with “Rat King,” which is easily a modern hard rock classic that bends and buckles at the knees with a dual doom riff cave-in.  The vocal hooks are molten, monolithic memory-manglers that whip into a steep 70s proto-metal frenzy.  This is pure power all the way that comes off flashy because of how stripped raw the ingredients are, the simplicity of the song’s unfolding, the smoothness of its blues and the way it puts a good meaty song-structure up front…yeah, somehow the meat n’ taters delivery makes this piece seem like a daunting dabble in complexity.  There’s an extended, nasty, in-the-red solo thrown in right where the song needs it most but everything else is low to the ground and intent on capturing all of the elements of a good heavy song.

“Oak” enters on tussling, folksy, dueling guitar psychedelia while evading the traditional acoustic waters that often comes with the genre turf.  These sliding, rural licks seep into a smoldering rhythm component and another standout, ever-flowing lead vocal from Magnus.  The haunting blues is straight-out of the psychedelic 70s and could be comparable to the Americana version heard on All them Witches’ Lightning at your Door.  Excellent guitar playing makes for some winding lead bits and ghostly ebb/flow before a squealing solo rouses the drumming into a fill-frenzy as Dalen’s low-end bolsters the frontlines with its own lead parts in the form of forceful, power-walking bass grooves.  It’s a powerful, peaceful jam that doesn’t forsake muscle entirely.  Ambient, FX-dosed guitar shimmers and throbbing yet gorgeous bass lines yield a drama rich build to “Endless Ocean’s” cosmic intro.  Valley deep vocal melodies carve their claim into the music’s dynamic, sonically beautiful psychedelic bedrock.  Numerous lead/solo trade-offs and vast instrumental ponderings turn the band’s collective eyes to early Hawkwind and Rare Bird’s Epic Forest masterpiece; culminating in a 10 minute sprawl that feels heavy (and is certainly heady) even when it largely isn’t something to blister your braincells with.

Returning to the almighty altar of the riff, “Stone” drops one bluesy hammer after another.  Again those magnificent pipes Riise possesses tattoo their grandeur across every inch of riff flesh and this one is as down to the bone as it gets.  The drumming tosses in some jazzy flourishes with a lot of extra beats and cymbal swerves on hand that lends this jam plenty of liveliness.  Solos cry from the soul and further showcase the humanity here and these cats have a knack for lengthy ones that never feel like senseless wanking.  Like “Rat King” it should be thick enough to please the fiercest riff fiends but has aridity and irrigation that renders it upbeat even at its most downtempo grind.  Sludgier and dirtier still, “Fog” has a gory, overdriven bass sleaze matching the hellish, churning riffs and battering concussion strikes.  They’re still dishing out melody in spades though even the vocals clamp down on a grittier, sleazier howl.  Fans of Terra Firma and the most gnarled of the Maryland doom legends should be all over this one.  Making a killer companion piece “Cellar Door” is all about fuzzbombed wah solos, economical but exciting riffage and dirty guitar dropouts where the bass absolutely overtakes everything.  That pristine riff filth calls to mind everything I love from Cathedral to Acrimony to Church of Misery to Sabbath to Blood Farmers, etc.

We’re back to echoing, reverb-drowned, pedal punched psychedelic majesty during “Acid Wedding’s”  loaded on LSD intro but soon the band’s different vibes collide into feral, casket closing doom that’s a hopeless, sparsely notated abyss of dominating slime with a heightened melodic sense.  Take Vitus’ dungeon damned tempos and domestic riff abuse and meld it to Count Raven’s huge grooves and scenic production vistas and you’ll have a good idea of what’s going down here.  At 3:35 a galloping bass boogie ushers in a bombastic, mountain toppling riff, nervous snare breakdowns, scowling solos and pissed off throaty vocal wails that’s not only a big surprise in the track itself but also concocts the album’s heaviest, most harrowing mood change-up.  Closer “Returning” ends the record on a highly energetic note with another round of sheer riffing might that juxtaposes tough as nails instrumental tones against a singing approach that splits the difference between breathless melody and gutsy, skyward passages higher up the vocal registers.  A trembling, clean post-midsection meditation creates a false sense of security before another goddamned doom riff abomination and a sweltering solo drags the album into the ether.

Slow Wander is a success from the first track to the last and demands to be played from start to finish.  It’s interesting how the tracklist was arranged so that you get some of the softer psychedelic experiments early on while the record’s second half feels like it was conjured from a Hell where Satan dedicated himself entirely to the art of learning soulful, decipherable vocals.  Red Mountains were off to a helluva start on Down with the Sun but Slow Wander is an even better, more fully realized piece of work.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Jay S
October 31st, 2017

Comments

  1. Commented by: Jay

    Thanks for deleting the mudslinging. Not sure what the heck that was about. I might have went overboard on the list but if you enjoy Red Mountains you should definitely go back in time and grab those 2 Terra Firma albums, the 2 Magnified Eyes and some of that other stuff. All good, heavy riffed stuff with solid melody and worthy of a listing if this is your style.


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