The band reach a new plateau on their third full length album.
Words by Rohan (@manvsplaylist):
MOUNTAINEER formed in 2015 and have maintained a high level of productivity over the past five years. Over the course of two prior full lengths and one EP, the band have sought to carve a place for themselves in the sludgey, low-end, post-metal landscape, but have found success in searching out a more melodic, uplifting quality to their sound rather than toiling simply in dissonance, gear worship or forced aggression. On Bloodletting the band have managed to take an impressive evolutionary step forward, delivering a well-crafted exploration of tone, layers of intricate guitars, and glistening vocal melodies that connect across a broad spectrum of intensities & moods.
Prior to the writing of this new material, MOUNTAINEER added several new members to their permanent lineup, and are now boasting a truly impressive 3-headed guitar assault. New members (both guitarists) Isaac Rigler & Forrest Harvey come from local avant-garde doom outfit DAXMA, a group that released an intriguing EP in 2019 on Blues Funeral (contained as part of ambitious PostWax series). They join co-founding members Clayton Bartholomew (guitar, bass) and Miguel Meza (vocals, percussion), and Patrick Spain (drums) who joined the band in 2017. This new fully realized version of the band took to the writing process together, and collectively toiled away in live rehearsal rooms to create the material for Bloodletting. The added diversity of creative input & influences has resulted in a sound that is nuanced and ambitious.
Right from the albums opening track Blood of the Book, MOUNTAINEER establishes clearly their intention on this record: to reflect, to uplift, to overcome and to persevere. The measured tempo is captivating, and retains a careful spacious quality to its sound despite the variety of layers in the instrumentation. The band deftly touch on a wide range of emotions & atmospheres, all while retaining at its core a searing power. MOUNTAINEER’s sound moves instantly beyond time honored trudging, doomed-out, low-end repetition; instead there is an artful fluidity in which group moves in and out of different passages. Displaying influences that draw equally from the brute force of CULT OF LUNA and the sublime dexterity of RED SPAROWES, the band inhabits its own sphere of optimism and positivity, one that is rooted in post-metal meets doom heaviness, and remains balanced by its use of textured layers of guitars and shimmering vocal melodicism.
In no short order does it become apparent that one of the most engaging components of this album is the performance of vocalist Miguel Meza. Displaying an impressive range of multiple vocal styles and approaches, oftentimes over the course of a single song, Meza boasts a fearless, cathartic roar, commands brilliant control of his higher end, forceful melodic choruses, and provides restrained, dramatic, lower end passages. Meza can capably navigate his way from Johannes Persson level rage one minute, to a floating, subdued melody akin to Matt Talbott the next. Make no mistake - those are some heady comparisons, and it is precisely this vocal dynamism that helps keep the album so diverse & gratifying.
The second track on the record The Weeds I Have Tended again highlights both Meza’s range, and the ear-worm quality of the melodic lines he manages to layer above the sonic weight that is brooding beneath. This is as short and punchy a track as can be found on the album, serving as a fantastic door-opener to those who may be new to MOUNTAINEER’s sound. The expanse of this new guitar horizon is also sharply magnified here. Dense layers of thick, crunchy low end rest perfectly alongside subtly interweaving melodic licks, that all come together in a superb avalanche of power. The enormity of sound continues pounding forward on Shot Through With Sunlight, the standout track of the album. The cliff-face wall of sound that pummels the course of this piece is monumental, eventually breaking off and falling into a quiet moment of solitude. Such peaks & valleys moments are abundant throughout the album and serve as one of the defining qualities of MOUNTAINEER’s style, executed with lush orchestration and rich detail.
Seemingly not content with the instrumentation or compositional intricacies on the first half of the record, MOUNTAINEER ambitiously manage to even further enrich their sound on tracks South To Infinity and Apart on the back half of the album. These two cuts both feature guest spots from Jessica T. on violin, herself also a member of DAXMA. These additional subtle layers tie in well with the arrangements, and add another clever level of texture. Much like the layering that permeates all corners of this album, none of these additions on these two tracks prove frivolous. The violin element brings in a new emotional phrasing to the bands language, a pleasantly surprising aspect to add towards the end of the record.
Bloodletting covers a thematic terrain of loss, atonement and regret, but doesn’t dwell in self-pity or negativity. The music itself provides a clever mirror to those ideas of reflection, positivity and progress in the way that major keys dominate, both subtle and overt guitar harmonies are explored in equal proportion, and various elements of soft piano lines or faint percussion textures layer cleverly over one another to generate a mood that is bright, sharp & uplifting. A perfect visual representation of both the album’s sound & emotion has been captured on its cover art (courtesy of Unggun Yulianto). A crisp, true red backdrop gives way to a shimmering, glistening beacon of warm white light; centered and focused, it exudes positivity, strength and calm. A fitting and well-chosen piece to adorn the finished product.
High praise must be given to the mixing of the album, courtesy of Ben Hirschfield at Nu-Tone Studios. He has provided a remarkably clean, crisp and rich soundscape for MOUNTAINEER to display the power of their songwriting. Hirschfield somehow manages to find careful balance between the three layers of guitars, providing not just fantastic clarity to each of their individual parts, but allowing the full force of their combined presence to reverberate throughout each track. The bass tone is warm and thick, the drums are precise & present, all the while allowing for the vocal performance to command its well deserved spotlight. Witness this sonic dexterity on just the opening moments of the title track. It’s huge. Much like the material itself, the mix itself possesses a bright & spacious quality to it. Not an easy task to balance, but it has been masterfully executed here.
Bloodletting proves to be a body of work that is best absorbed & fully appreciated over repeat listens. Not that the subject matter or complexity of the arrangements are hard to penetrate, rather it is the type of album that grows in warmth through familiarity, recognition and sense of anticipation. Once that baseline connection to the music is made, many of the intricate layers of the guitars illuminate more & more, the vocal melodies resonate on a deeper emotional level, and the full grandeur of the entire offering becomes noticeably clearer. The band have taken enormous strides on this album and have delivered an absorbing statement of power and reflection that serves as a spark of optimism in otherwise uncertain times.
Bloodletting arrives this Friday, May 22nd via Lifeforce Records. Get your copy HERE.