Befitting their name, Mountaineer keep moving forward and keep moving upward. In just five years, what began as a two-man studio project has evolved into a full band with an eye for detail and an ear for the epic. And now they’ve made their best album yet.
The San Francisco outfit’s debut was solid if slightly staid post-metal, intriguing in places but perhaps hewn too close to the genre template to truly stand out. 2018’s ‘Passages’ was bigger and better but then founding members Clayton Bartholomew (ex-Secrets of the Sky, ex-Lycus) and vocalist Miguel Meza (ex-Ashes of American Flags) added a new drummer, two new guitarists, better production, and a ton of power and passion to the mix. The end result is Bloodletting.
This is high-quality skyscraping metal, doom, gloom, and shoegaze. No, wait, that’s not quite right. This is anti-doom- intent on crushing you with light and not darkness- and more like stargaze than shoegaze. Mountaineer still make music for fans of Neurosis, Old Man Gloom, and Cult of Luna but there’s cosmic dust, beams of light, and experimental flair here. This is a record focused on supernova sounds, grand themes, and the great beyond.
You can hear it all straight away too. Opening track “Blood of the Book” begins with layered, chanted vocals that somehow sound natural, mechanical, and maybe divine, all at once. It’s hypnotic stuff. Clean guitars and drums begin to intertwine with the vocals and up the tempo but instead of pounding to a cliched crescendo, the noise comes in waves, before fading away to leave just a bright, looping riff behind.
This isn’t necessarily an easy listen. At first, it’s only particular riffs or awestruck passages, not whole songs, that stand out. Tracks like the, ahem, mountainous “The Weeds I Have Tended” and excellent, emotional “To Those We’ve Said Goodbye” give Meza a chance to show off his range and act as navigator, but Bloodletting might take a couple of listens to really click. It’s almost an hour long and there are similar tones and tempos throughout. Once it does connect however, it’s hard to ignore.
If this is Mountaineer at their peak, then they’ve come admirably far. If they can keep on ascending at the same pace though, they promise true greatness.