I’ve had a lucky month here at Angry Metal Guy. Aside from the somewhat tepid release from The Sea Within, I haven’t been saddled with anything that caused my rash to inflame. My last June review is for the second album from the relatively new post/doom band, Mountaineer. Passages follows last year’s debut, Sirens and Slumber, and Mountaineer themselves follow Secrets of the Sky, the former band of guitarist Clayton Bartholomew—a band that L. Saunders loved a few years ago. This all raised two questions: first, will I love Passages as much as L. Saunders loved Pathway, and second, will my streak of quality June releases come to a satisfying conclusion?
Almost and yes are the answers, if you’re wondering. Here in Mountaineer, Bartholomew is joined by vocalist Miguel Meza, formerly of now-defunct hardcore outfit Ashes of American Flags, and drummer Patrick Spain (post/doom acts Dustern and Catapult the Dead). It’s safe to say that influences from the pasts of all members are on display here, and assembled in a rather interesting manner. Passages is really just two 20-minute songs, each broken into four—you guessed it—passages. Bartholomew wrote the songs last year in the order they appear here, and the band recorded in the same manner. The songs take on the concept of mortality in bleak, cathartic fashion. The easiest comparison I can make here is to Neurosis, with the thick, dense, cathartic blasts of post-metal intertwined with more delicate, exhausted moments.
“Hymnal” opens in this delicate fashion, layers of instruments plucking plaintively before Spain begins walloping his drums and Meza joins in with Scott Kelly-style vocals. For twenty minutes, “Hymnal” takes us through highs and lows, dropping into a shoegaze interlude during “Passage II” of the song, the crashing of cymbals playing off the colossal guitars. Clean vocals are featured as much as harsh, adding texture to the song. “Catacombs” opens in stunningly foreboding fashion, with a sinister guitar melody playing atop a marching drum beat/raging guitar that fades in slowly, building tension like no other song I’ve heard this year. “Part II” of the song is pensive yet crushing at the same time, while “Passage III” features guitars playing off each other delicately before vocals and drums blister our senses once again, and “Passage IV” is simply enormous, encapsulating the entire album in six ponderous minutes. Much like Neurosis’ stronger work, I’m left exhausted and thrilled at the end.
As the album cover states, Passages is a “multilayered sound recording.” What does that mean? In this case, we’ve got the ebb and flow of a variety of instruments creeping in and out of the mix—plenty of guitars and massive drums, yes, but also piano, beer bottle,1 xylophone, and more added in. The mix is thick and, at high volume, overwhelming, conveying the subject matter aptly. It’s a case where less actually wouldn’t be more despite what we tell you. The bludgeoning drums, the piles of raging guitars, the anguished vocals—they all need to be compressed in the manner they are. It pays off for Mountaineer in the overall feel of the album.
While I don’t like Passages as much as my colleague liked Pathway, I personally like it more than that album. Black metal vocals don’t turn me on, so the absence of them here is a blessing. And while not as technical or progressive as Secrets of the Sky, I’m a big fan of this heavy post-doom amalgamation (have I mentioned Neurosis in any reviews?), so Mountaineer are a big success in my eyes. Bartholomew and company took a chance with their approach on Passages and it has paid off in visceral fashion, with an emotionally engaging pair of songs. And who knows, you might see me doing a Contrite Metal Guy piece in a few months where this gets bumped up a grade…