“Clear Light of the Void” is the third track from As We Were When We Were Not (henceforth AWWWWWN) by Leeds’ Mountains Crave and its opening explicitly grabbed my attention. Underpinned by a gently plucked simple progression, an old broadcast of Gerald Heard is sampled. Gerald Heard was a noted historian and writer but was also considered an expert on LSD; he espoused the mind-opening nature of psychedelic drugs. This sample led me to read around the young band and discover this psychedelic streak is important to them, citing Aldous Huxley as a particular influence. I can scarcely contain my scholarly enthusiasm for Huxley’s life and works and as such my passing interest in these guys crystallized into full attention. I’m not naïve however: one’s music and their ideas can easily be divested1 so I turned to their debut album with my musical ear as tuned as my academic fervor.
The music within is substantially black metal but it’s unusually melodic. While executed very much like second wave black metal normally would be, the lead guitars are layered and harmonized frequently and effectively. It makes for a compelling sound which is whirling and icy but quite accessible, as distinguished from designated ‘melodic black metal’ bands whose focus is usually riffs. The most forgettable parts of AWWWWWWN are those in which black metal blasts but stray from this model. It’s also a quite atmospheric record. Deeper chanting verges on throat singing on “Ynisvitrin,” while standard chants and female clean singing flesh out emotive moments and climaxes. Acoustic guitars lend delicacy to the interludes and lighter passages too. These quieter parts are typically paced well as they offer reprieve without detracting from the heaviness.
These reprieves commonly occur shortly before the finale to tracks. It’s a simple song-writing trick but it works as it refocuses the listener for the climactic endings. That on the aforementioned “Clear Light of the Void” is the best on the album as it boasts some very gentle “ahs” and a particularly pretty acoustic melody. The acoustic scale and singing is layered over the blackened aggression before stripping out the nastiness, conferring a sense of fragility on the passage. The ensuing finale then adopts that same melody in a heavier fashion. It all transitions very fluidly and represents the clear high point on AWWWWWWWN, fusing heaviness and melody in a very compelling fashion.
Outside this moment and a couple of others, however, the record fall a little flat. AWWWWWWWWN embodies a decent overall package with few active flaws but it lacks the surge of quality to come truly recommended. As above, the black metal which isn’t melodic or layered with atmospheric qualities is quite forgettable and contributes little to the experience. Even on “Clear Light of the Void,” there are a few minutes in the first half which I’d happily cull. The worst track in this regard is the closer, “Theophany.” It’s the most repetitive and the epic chants at the end don’t justify its 9 minutes. This negatively impacts the surrounding album since it concludes on a sour note. And the aforementioned reprieves lose impact around the fifth track given their predictability and pervasiveness across AWWWWWWWWWN.
Nevertheless, Mountains Crave made a solid first stab into the crowded black metal market and nowhere are they more impressive than when distinguishing themselves through their melodic and atmospheric qualities. It’s through these that the psychedelic associations are apparent. But the overall dearth of stand-out aspects consigns AWWWWWWWWWWN to a middling location where black metal aficionados may glean more than I did.