It’s hard to put into words the very alien sensation that overcame me upon my first exposure to post-metal. I was aboard a bus making my way home after purchasing the newly released Oceanic by ISIS. I slipped the disc into my portable CD player and found myself slowly sinking into a sludge of croaking, pensive riffs that consumed the steel canopy I was travelling in and spirited me to another plane of existence. The strange, off-key composition that shifted tone from one chord to the next produced a distant, almost hollow listening experience that scratched an itch I didn’t know I had, leading me to manically seek out like-minded releases from bands such as Neurosis, Cult of Luna and Old Man Gloom. 15 years later and a trio from Brooklyn, NY by the name of Mountain God are ready to decant their debut Bread Solstice, an ominous, abstract musical séance reminiscent of the aforementioned post-metal trailblazers. Can Mountain God channel that same otherworldly concoction of discomfort and fevered obsession that infected me oh so many moons ago?
Post-metal – like it’s nearest neighbor sludge metal – builds upon the foundations laid down by doom, keeping intact the throbbing riffs and ponderous pace while shedding much of the fantasy and occult trappings in favor of a more intellectual, existential outlook. If doom was about the “what” then one could argue post-metal is more about the “why?” Another important facet of post-metal’s identity is how the music has been whittled clean of much of the superfluity that rounds the shoulders of most other genres, stripping away layer after layer until all that’s left is an exposed core. More often than not the music is comprised of only a few elements, re-arranged and repeated in service of focusing on a single leitmotif. Mind you we’re not talking about ultra-minimalism or noise here, rather the approach is simplicity and clarity. Less Bauhaus and more De Stijl.
If it seems that I’m taking my time to get to the meat ‘n’ potatoes of actually, you know, reviewing the album, then you’re not wrong, as the above preamble is in service of managing the expectations you may have for Bread Solstice. Banish thoughts of an adrenaline-filled roller-coaster ride overstuffed with sick riffs and dueling solos. What you get instead is a measured experience; heady music that ebbs and flows, punctuated by the odd moment of violent intensity but otherwise resting on atmosphere over instant gratification.
Ordinarily a musical critique such as this would include a forensic examination of a number of tracks from the album but such an approach doesn’t work here as this is an album that lives and dies being experienced as a whole. I look over at what I wrote for Bread Solstice and the pages devoted to the tracks are empty. Attempting to summarize this album by recounting the songs is like trying to define someone’s looks by describing their circulatory system. Instead what I experienced across my many listening sessions was landscapes of icy tundra, barren desserts parched and cracked, vivisected by dried up lakebeds. Desolation, alienation. Fear, joy, sorrow. There is however one particular musical element I do want to draw attention to as it’s something that stood out to me: the kick-drum. The riff usually gets all the spotlight as it plays a pivotal role in establishing the core sound across many styles and genres but here it’s the kick-drum that forms the ballast that keeps the music stable. In a churning, grey sea of riffs the kick-drum is the life preserver on Bread Solstice that kept my head above water to help me find my bearings.
Wrapping up my thoughts is particularly difficult as so much of my enjoyment or apathy stemmed from my mood and my desire to devote a block of time to listening to the album to the exclusion of all else. It would be churlish to browbeat Mountain God for not injecting excitement here or there, or for arranging the tracks so that they can be consumed one sliver at a time. Mountain God have created a slab of emotionally-charged atmospheric metal. It may not be the first thing you turn to for a fun evening in but it does offer solid – if at times harrowing – companionship should you be overcome by brooding introspection. My love affair with post-metal has waned over the years and while I can’t say Bread Solstice has completely rekindled the fire it has reminded me of the genre’s power to be completely lost in the moment, at least for a short while.