Mountaineer
Passages

Aching and expressive, hard-hitting and restrained, overwhelming and minimal, the sounds heard on the sophomore album Passages from Oakland, California’s Mountaineer are a sprawling range of opposites that form a sonic conglomerate aimed for a total takeover.  Post-rock/post-doom or whatever you want to call it is the band’s decided monolithic calling card but their layer upon texture, texture upon layer wall of spacey crunch has a unique signature that’s split into two monstrous tracks with numerous movements.  The songs are minced into digestible bite sized chunks (4 each) for easy repeat listening and though this album is best experienced wholesale, there’s plenty of highly memorable pieces worthy of an individual dedicated revisit.

“Hymnal’s” first movement is drug by sled dogs through a chilly ambience that turns lips blue as its dreamscape introduction rains down frigid, translucent clean guitars courtesy of multi-instrumentalist Clayton Bartholomew.  Atmospheric elements are piled on piece by piece; a floating piano melody first, xylophone next, sleigh bells thereafter…  Though it might seem like over-indulgence on paper, the pristine sonic collaging works to the song’s advantage and firmly implants a stern sense of mood and place.  The warmth of the emerging bass lines reignites the blood like St. Bernard whiskey and a catharsis comes in the guise of scalding, emotive screams that are powerful and decipherable as perfectly emphasized by the gargantuan, and burden bearing riffage.  There’s a ton of movement to the guitar work and it hits several key changes during its course.  Patrick Spain’s skin-cracking work on the snare maintains a steady, forward-pushing beat mushing his team on to a star sparkle acoustic outro that flows directly into the second movement.  A distant snare march leads a family of penguins over the cliff like loyal lemmings as a reflector glimmer of guitar chords acts as a signal for the violent act.  Buckling, bending power chords crunch with downward driving weight while flickering flame lead note melodies engrave emerald green sigils into the tectonic, grey-colored sludgy churns.  Miguel Meza’s vocal howl twists a gut-deep, emotive holler into a near melody that perfectly works with the music and has more presence than the “just another instrument” approach of some bands in the genre.  He sheds his fury for drippy, gliding singing beyond the midpoint perched atop a heart-wrenching, boulder-breaking riff melancholy that’s might is tripled tenfold thanks to a crushing backbeat full of tricked-out, constant-motion snare/kick combos and sullen, crater-making bass hooks.

Part 3 is a living, breathing aquatic underworld where swirling heavy guitar riffs support a gilded Atlantis-molded realm and its foundation with impenetrable buttresses.  Incandescent clean vocals from Meza enchant the ears and sound sublime without ever falling to limp-wristedness or just plain bad clean singing which can haunt some of their like-minded peers.  Those steel-toed riffs have enough of a swing to them that you’ll be nodding and moving your head in a pagan trance.  Spain’s poundings are lean and dip within the structure as a looped music box melody furthers the hypnotic auras.  When you need it most the entire word that Mountaineer creates implodes and drowns in a flood of desperate, rushing screams and controlled but impeccably produced/layered texture magic.  The fourth and final cry of “Hymnal” is instantly heavier and more threatening than the other segments.  Vocally, it begins with a beautiful melody but distressed noise guitar, hopeless plunges of bass, raw-recorded drums playing a dry and smashing cymbal/snare downbeat and baroque piano conjure a darkened vacuum from which no light gleams are visible.  Patrick triggers a cataclysmic riff with a Rome-collapsing beat smashed into lockstep with rabid snare patterns and boiling, raging toms as multi-tracked screamed/melodic vocals vie for total soul control and Clayton’s dirge-weathered guitar lines roar to the heavens challenging God.  In a juxtaposition of pure polar opposites the track ends with of the most gorgeous guitar work on the entire album.

The album’s second half is comprised of “Catacombs” which lives up to the bleaker nature of its namesake.  Echoing, delaying, heavily reverbed guitars and a slow, fuzzy rise of diseased distortion are ushered in via galloping that practically the launch movement into negative space.  There’s a threatening, unforgiving haze hung over everything (even the melodic guitar sweeps) with release arriving in a volley of dual vocals and ravaging guitar/bass grinds.  Heft drops out entirely for near silent melodicism but returns to chew off your head with a stretch you on the rack vengeance as soul-tearing vocal howls, godless doom-y riffs, looping crystalline clean licks and pulverizing drums haul the track off in a hearse for burial.  Passage 2 leads with an ultra-distorted bass arrangement that sets the tone for knuckle-dragging riffs and further augmentations of the melodic leads that ended the prior composition.  At times the saddening vocal trembles remind me of John Haughm from the much-missed Agalloch.  The absolute mountain high stack of sounds and layers also give me fond memories of the Oregon legends musically as well, though the influence here is much more directly rooted in doom and less in folk-y, desolate black metal.  There’s nary a scream to be found here and the glorious cleans offset the sinkhole sucking stringed instruments and drumming with brilliant light/dark shading.  Beginning in a tranquil meditation, the third emanation of “Catacombs” is breathed life from an arid, respiratory beat heavy on that super dry snare tone and followed by wave after wave of clean guitar ghosting that leisurely unveils a winding, buzzy lead lick.  Careful, precise resuscitation is soon abandoned and jolted with an electric shock of huge, bent-note riffs that sound like Hum on steroids with percussion to match and another well-executed display of twin-tongued vocals that place the clawing screams slightly above the melodies (another subtle touch the production utilizes to great effect throughout the entire record, putting one vocal slightly ahead of the other).  The final piece of the puzzle, “Catacombs; Passage IV” has the sleaziest, heaviest doomed-out riffs on the entire album fighting to the death against neck-squeezed power shouts that morph into uplifting melodies, winding melody chords that burn shut the wounds inflicted by the sludgy abandon and a wealth of percussive accoutrements only add to the submerging depth-charge of the antimatter drum plod with eccentric grace.

Though Mountaineer debuted strongly on the scene with 2017’s Sirens & Slumber, Passages eclipses it in every way, shape and form.  The heightened songwriting approach benefits from the alternating vocals and multifaceted instrumental elements.  Some doom-oriented, post-rock bands are content to slam away in one mode but Mountaineer shapeshifts into completely different animals often several times within the confines of a single piece.  Not only do the two monster tracks make compelling complete listens but the entire album holds up as a collection of songs which isn’t the easiest feat.  Overall, this is damn good stuff that could appeal to anyone that digs Neurosis, Eyes of Fire, Agalloch, Rosetta and many other great bands that have proudly carried the heavy/melodic banner.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Jay S
August 1st, 2018

Comments

  1. Commented by: Nick

    Unbelievably well worded review Jay. Completely on point and thorough. Excellent work!


  2. Commented by: Jay

    Thanks so much Nick! I appreciate it man. This is some good stuff. I think it steps out from the Neurosis/Isis deal with originality and kind of reinvents those big, looming sounds all over again.


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