Reviewed: [June 2020]
Released [2020 Lifeforce Records]
Reviewer: Peter Atkinson
San Francisco sextet Mountaineer sound about the opposite of what one has come to expect of Bay Area metal – and the beefy thrash of vintage Metallica, Exodus, Testament, Death Angel, etc., that endures to this day. While there is certainly no shortage of “beef” in the band’s brawny sound, there is a notable absence of velocity and rabbit-punch viciousness. But that’s OK.
Mountaineer has been described by some as “post-modern doom” – a handy tag for the mashup of post/alt-metal and doom that drives the band’s sound. So I guess that’s a fair point. Their third album, Bloodletting, echoes the likes of fellow Bay Area outliers Neurosis and – to a certain extent – Fallujah, but even more so, Sweden’s phenomenal Cult Of Luna or France’s Alcest in its deliberate but evocative droning.
Bloodletting builds on doom’s sloggy foundation to delivers atmosphere, scale and drama. Though the band is now armed with three guitarists, the trio – Clayton Bartholomew, Isaac Rigler, Forrest Harvey – are not content to just sit back and crank out elephantine riffs. Indeed, there is as much shimmer as there is shake here as they pair Spartan, soaring wisps with thunderous power chords over the lurching rhythms of Dillon Variz and Patrick Spain.
And that leaves plenty of room for the haunting melodies that are as integral to Mountaineer’s sound as its ominous heaviness. The band demonstrate that contrast in stunning detail as the album opens with “Blood of the Book.” The song’s ethereal intro, with its meditative harmonies and serene, jazzy guitar strains comes to a jarring end after about two minutes as frontman Miguel Meza unleashes an ursine roar and the band crank up their doomy engines through the midsection before things settle down again for the keyboard-infused finale.
The title track does much the same, but in reverse order, muscling up at the outset before mellowing – and with far cleaner vocals from Meza, who uses his growls sparingly. So too does the initially quaking “South To Infinity,” the album’s longest song that provides most of its up-tempo moments – which actually are just mid-tempo – out of the gate before slowing to a crawl.
“The Weeds I Have Tended” and “Apart” take a more direct route with their tangled jangle of guitar played over an unhurried tempo, as does “To Those We’ve Said Goodbye” with its aching sparseness. It’s here that Mountaineer’s sound takes on a more alt-rock feel, with gritty harmonies that recall Alice In Chains and airy expanses that hint of Failure. Neither of which is a bad thing.
For all out doom and gloom, there is the ironically titled “Shot Through With Sunlight” that recalls vintage Paradise Lost – though, again, without the death growls – with its slow build and heaving swells. The closing track “Ghost Story” seems destined to repeat, but ends with what could be described as a rousing crescendo – relatively speaking.
At nearly an hour long, with the bonus track “Still” included, Bloodletting can certainly feel a bit ponderous, given the band’s seeming aversion to velocity. But while Mountaineer rarely move above a snail’s pace, the shape-shifting nature of the songs and the sprawling dynamics the band employ within that confine will largely reward your patience.