Occasionally, an artist will arrive on the scene that checks all the boxes to fit within a genre, yet somehow manages to be completely unique within it. Mountaineer do just that with the classification of post-metal; glacial tempos, reverberant production, meditative repetitiveness and lengthy tracks are all components of Mountaineer’s sound, yet the act brings welcome air and space to the often caustic and claustrophobic strains of post-metal. The Oakland trio caught our attention with last year’s Sirens & Slumber (read our 9/10 review here). It’s hardly a year later, and the three piece are already back with Passages. Passages – Mountaineer’s sophomore release on Lifeforce Records, which will be available on June 29, 2018.
Passages can be split into two distinct parts: “Hymnal” and “Catacombs”. Each one is further subdivided into four…passages, which culminate in a forty minute run time. Thus, the record is somewhat short for a post-metal affair, but sacrifices none of its ambition for concision. “Hymnal: Passage I” introduces the record with unexpectedly optimistic ringing guitar notes and bells. Miguel Meza’s throaty vocals lead us into the ensuing conflict between ringing guitars and pounding drums. It is immediately apparent that the music encapsulated on Passages has much more emotional weight and dynamism than I often associate with the genre. And although each passage is distinct, they flow seamlessly into one another.
“Hymnal: Passage II” manages to be both proud and pained – the sound of victory achieved at a great loss. This emotional complexity is highlighted again by Meza’s powerful vocal delivery. His voice is a throat-shredding guide to the anthemic music, balancing perfectly between hardcore shouts and post-hardcore melodicism – a unique but welcome contrast to the music surrounding it.
Where the “Hymnal” half of the record is a reflective, atmospheric and even hopeful take on post-metal, “Catacombs” is decidedly darker. The song’s first passage is passingly reminiscent of “In The Hall of The Mountain King”, but immediately establishes a foreboding, subterranean mood to the music. Though generally more unsettling than the first half of the record, the passages on the latter half are no less enjoyable or melodic. The intensity climaxes on closing track “Catacombs: Passage IV”, with an almost funeral doom pace and crushing chords that unexpectedly blossom into the repeated ‘Leave the light on’ refrain, before resolving with an extended post rock outro.
There is nary a fault to be found when exploring Passages. The guitars are versatile, the drumming powerful, and the vocals a unique highlight. When combined, they make for songs that are bleak but beautiful, with a tone I can only describe as tragically triumphant. Of course, those who like their music more versatile in tempo and delivery may be disappointed, but post metal is more about exploring a few important ideas in depth than inattentively rifling through a number of them. Passages is certainly a stand-out in the genre for 2018, and shows Mountaineer progressing and producing at an impressive pace.
Notable Tracks: “Hymnal: Passage II”; “Catacombs: Passage IV”
FFO: Jakob, Pallbearer