HEAVY FEATHER – Mountain of Sugar (2021)REVIEW

Guianerius tells a story of two Dutchmen, to whom he gave entertainment in his house, that in one month’s space were both melancholy by drinking of wine, one did nought but sing, the other sigh.” Robert Burton, The Anatomy of Melancholy

Lining up their knuckles and squarely knocking on early 1970’s heavy blues rock’s door Heavy Feather are an impassioned Stockholm-based quartet who’re worth letting in. Formed between folks who are known for their work in various blues and retro rock projects Mårran and Siena Root, including notable vocalist Lisa Lystam who’d most recently appeared on their ‘The Secret of Our Time‘ album last year, this particular project is their straight forward strike at the fantastic baton-passing boon past the sixties unto the seventies. Whereas Siena Root are known for their experimental analog-era progressive roots rock style, Heavy Feather are far less an amorphous prospect in terms of style; Their core inspiration channels the blues rock pulse of the late 60’s, touching on British milestones as well as their United States counterparts who were a bit more welcoming of the heavy riff rock boon of the early-to-mid 70’s resultant, still shy of heavy metal but slinging more than standard bars all the same. A prevalent core of blues-centric twang and soulful classic rock songwriting lands them in the oldest tradition of all things heavy, with the band naming Free and Cream (among others) as major touchstones yet the well-trained ear will find Heavy Feather as young-yet-wisened folks clearly pulling in a low dose of their own refinement on Sweden’s retro heavy rock revival, an multi-layered institution of its own since the early 90’s, boasting throwback timbre with a heap of their own ideas on top of auld ideals in presentation of the hook-heavy, revelatory ‘Mountain of Sugar‘.

Whittling down what is retro-rock spin and what lives up to the auld standards will depend on how pure your cynicism is for the glut of early 70’s rock imitation out today is and, how well-trained your ear is for the rumbling hard blues vibe they’re pulling in to start. The major difference between today and yesterday in Heavy Feather‘s world could be measured best setting down and listening to each of their two records back to back, wherein ‘Débris & Rubble‘ (2019) certainly makes good on the easy, slightly less zoned-out promise of some Free energy circa ‘Fire and Water‘. Slow-going and often quite “pretty” sentimental pieces mark that first album as decidedly less “heavy” beyond some lead guitars that dust up technique on the Rory Gallagher side of things a la Taste‘s (Ireland) ‘On the Boards‘. Pristine yet less than cranked guitar tone driven, sittin’ down and swaying songs like “Tell Me Your Tale” let us know these folks were in it for the connection rather than the ruckus, rarely raising Hell above a slight boogie. For ‘Mountain of Sugar’ the band have set Lystam up front for bigger, soulful vocal performances matched by active hard and heavier blues rock numbers starting with the testimonial “30 Days”, a riff and a number of major hooks all feeding the energy of this “in my head to point of breaking” blues rock song. Now I could rattle off countless references to long forgotten classics in this style but before I do, the caveat is that Heavy Feather lead with their own voice and a boisterous-yet-timely gait that does not waste time getting psychedelic, leaning into endless Hammond runs or shmaltzy piano ballads common of the early 70’s; Instead they’ve focused on to the point eh, to the point of bursting statements that regularly tie neatly into catchy roots n’ blues rock pieces with an active guitar driven presence and a strong melodic voice. From the bunker to the desert, to church and cruising back… we won’t necessarily get the full picture with old timey references.

That said, the guitar work here deserves a bit of shine on it beyond the obvious breakout performance we’re served via Lystam‘s feelin’ it but still technically sharp vocal performances. We could reach all the way for pre-‘Stonedhenge’ Ten Years Later, the live energy of ‘Undead’ in particular, before necessarily landing in the shared headspace of classic southern rock as the album progresses; I personally went to early Blackfoot in terms of matching some of that twanging Skynyrd (“Too Many Times”) and Deep Purple energy (see: the space truckin’ kick-off of “Rubble and Debris”) that crops up here and there but, there are a few devotional music inspired threads on ‘Mountain of Sugar’ that pull in a different angle toward similar influence. The all heavy / no feelin’ crowd probably won’t connect to this dreamy and sentimental side of the record, with “Let it Shine” being the major point of breaking but, I’d felt like this allows a natural division of Sides A and B and finds the band reveling in the bolder dynamic of their songwriting, harder-hitting highs and more peaceful rest when called for. The first single from the album “Bright in my Mind” is well chosen in this sense, showing the soulful blues register that drives the album with smart use of backup vocal melody extension and a whistled solo that comes together in finding common ground between blues rock of many regions, generations and traditions. The second single “Mountain of Sugar” is more of a bop, pulling in some of their retro Swedish rub but arriving upon a much more direct pop single compared to say, the first Blues Pills record which is otherwise the most meaningful modern companion for ‘Mountain of Sugar’ with all merits considered. These are hits in their own right but the most confrontational and kinda riffing pieces are the ones that struck me hardest and kept me in line for more. “Too Many Times” is a prime example of slide-guitar served attitude and a fed up lyric serving to cross the line between “retro” and straight timeless hard rock music with the electric blues buzzing almost Blind Melon-esque swagger of “Come We Can Go”.

It isn’t all my gig front to back, such as the keystone moment provided by “Sometimes I Feel”, which threatens to bump us up towards yacht rockin’ territory a bit (along with the cowbell to follow on the next piece) but they’ve carried the song with just enough folk rustle n’ ride to its movements and slice of life lyrical dwell to keep the song from feeling out of place. On one hand this song is an effective ‘letting it all out’ moment on par with the rest of the record yet the lead vocals from guitarist Matte Gustafsson (from the first In Solitude record?) are quite different in tone than Lystam‘s, and I’d felt like this was a missed opportunity to do a duet and harmonize a bit. The intimate, confessional blues rock sphere where Heavy Feather hit hardest isn’t breached by the moment but it is worth mentioning. The production values here are likewise of mention, opting for clarity and fidelity with the strong implication of vintage sound coming from gear choices as much as the performances themselves. The combined efforts of No Regrets Fonogram Studio, producer Erik Petersson and a brilliant master from Magnus Lindberg have set a remarkably high standard here in view of the last decade of Swedish retro boogie, rock and blues. I could not walk away from this record, well, I mean I literally could not step away from it to start but I couldn’t get the last word in here suggesting it is anything less than great. ‘Mountain of Sugar’ should break even the most steadfast retro rock sneer (my sourpuss included) with its passionate performances, crystal clear render and ridiculously infectious songwriting. A high recommendation.

High recommendation. (78/100)

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.
TITLE:Mountain of Sugar
LABEL(S):The Sign Records
RELEASE DATE:April 9th, 2021
BUY & LISTEN:Bandcamp [All Formats]
GENRE(S):Heavy Blues Rock,
Hard Rock, Heavy Rock

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