The Smashing Skull Sessions

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Mountaineer – Giving Up The Ghost

( Doom-Metal - Shoegaze )

Mountaineer have delivered yet again, and have released an album that smothers and shrouds the listener with its blanket of rich melodic hooks and heaving shoegaze riffs. The music is often dark and overcast , but it always allows that little shard of light through, which brings hope and rebirth.

I remember vividly, hearing Mountaineer’s third album Bloodletting for the first time when it was released back in 2020. With some of the music in the “post-metal” genre, I find there can be a lack of tone changes and a shortage of any melodic framework within the vocal delivery, and this tends to distance me from a lot of the bands who are undoubtedly all terrific musicians, but for these ears, and for this style of music, I feel the vocals should accompany the melody and harmony of the track a lot more! This is where the Oakland “post-metal” outfit Mountaineer sauntered in, and in one fell swoop reenergised my love for heavy post music. All those little nuances and essences that I felt were missing in this genre were strewn across Bloodletting. From harmonised, dirt-encrusted screams doused in dream gaze flourishes to doom laden riffs synchronised with unrestrained drums, Bloodletting had it all.

So, I’m happy to say that 2022 is already looking a whole lot brighter with the February release of Mountaineer’s fourth studio album Giving Up The Ghost. This album has brought with it, all those rich melancholic melodies and varied vocal operatics that adorned Bloodletting, however, I believe they have evolved once more with Giving Up The Ghost. There is something airy and fresh about it. Their sound is still heavy, and still languishing in lovelorn pensiveness, but at times the music feels like its nonchalantly drifting amidst the thermals of a shoegaze heatwave, suspended in glorious harmony and rapture.

That feeling is immediately apparent in the opening two tracks. The Ghost is just a passage of some serene and calmly plucked strings, married with the most delicate percussions rolling softly over it, that gently pushes the door ajar for the next track Blot Out The Sun, which showcases Mountaineer in all their splendour. From calm placid chord progressions come crisp clean vocals, velvet in texture and aching in melancholy. Volcanic growls pour lava over the mid-tempo riffs, while lugubrious drums lead us into what I consider the trademark Mountaineer sound. Deeply melodic chord progressions reveal that near-celestial vocal delivery that haunts and stirs the soul. The vocals flip back and forth through a synergy of serenades and shanties, all the time adorned with rich harmonies, before cascading into a mudslide of rolling drums and hair-raising guitar swells.

Bed Of Flowers is where this dream gazing sound I spoke of earlier really comes out from behind the shadows. Wailing guitar riffs rain over a slow chugging rhythm section, while slightly sand blasted vocals, reminiscent of the late Layne Staley, bring the track into a euphoric crescendo. Come to think of it, even the phrasing and pace of this track holds its dimly lit grunge torch to Alice In Chains, almost paying homage to them. A really great track.

The next two tracks, Touch of Glass and When The Soul Sleeps continue this gaze driven journey with more delicious hooks and deep melancholic melodies. The vocal ranges really do reign supreme on _When The Soul Sleeps _as they battle and tussle for bragging rights, all the way to the end. The final musical flourish elevates the album to yet another majestic plateau laced with elation and divine gratification.

My favourite track on the album, Twin Flame begins at funereal pace, with those rich lush vocals drawing and elongating on every word, “With death comes rebirth, with birth comes death, on a trip to the end, welcome to your last breath”. The guitars and bass continue at a snail’s pace with their slow-motion movements, accentuating the hardship and deep sense of loss within the track’s melody. Reverbed bass chords along with thrashing drums bring the track to its climax as the vocals continue to gently weep, before perfectly rolling into the closing piece of music Giving Up. This little piece of medieval styled plucking gently closes the album, serenading the listener one last time, bringing down the curtain on an album that’s both beautiful and black.

Mountaineer have continued to grow on every album and have constantly pushed the “post-metal" and "post-rock” envelope with each release. Their sound is unmistakably Mountaineer, there’s no denying that, it’s baptised in harmony and melody while all the time maintaining its musical prowess and underlying ferocity. Vocally there is less growling here than in earlier albums, which plays a big part in my assessment that this album has more of a “shoegazey” vibe than before, but for the atmosphere and the context of Giving Up The Ghost it works perfectly. I love this album, and I need to see these guys live soon. You do too!