Every man will meet his end. — The throes of determinism felt within themes of duty, loyalty and sovereignty ensures the high fantasy setting of Santa Rosa, California-borne heavy/doom metal quartet Lord Mountain‘s debut full-length album strikes the keen ear for the bardic heavy rock tradition in profound statement. A serious and loftily considered feat which serves this crucial, pristine entrance from the band well, ‘The Oath‘ is an unexpectedly fine and complete transformation of a project that’d previously appeared as a long dormant, kinda stoney whim. Herein every moment is now entirely considered and countable as enhancement upon the whole enchanting oft memorably achieved feat, serving well the ‘epic’ story spun in succinct terms.
Lord Mountain formed as a quartet circa 2014 spearheaded by vocalist/guitarist and songwriter Jesse Swanson who’d aim their sound towards an approximation of early 70’s Sabbath grooves and a hint of traditional heavy metal bustle on a self-titled debut mLP (‘Lord Mountain‘, 2016). It’d been a good start yet nothing out of the ordinary in terms of where psychedelic doom metal meets the trad metal curious side of stoner rock/metal music, they certainly weren’t Wolftooth nor where they a ‘Sabotage‘ cover band, eh. More folks noticed the group in 2017 when that same set of songs found its way to vinyl by way of inclusion on a split LP with Oakland-area heavy/doom rock crew Mesmer the following year, making for just a bit distant hype leading up to this new and now long-awaited debut LP. If you are seeking precedence in that earlier work you’ll find little more than a competent seedling of an idyll therein, I’d emphasize that pulling back to that release is non-essential if you’d been drawn to the epic heavy/doom metal experience promised by ‘The Oath‘.
A familiar plateau, a new adventure. — Though we could shuffle through a number of traditional heavy/doom metal bands in meeting up with the register of Lord Mountain it’ll have to be a carefully tread space as to not give the wrong impression since the vocal tension and dramatism of Candlemass influenced doom metal doesn’t necessarily apply here even if the stride of early-to-mid 80’s heavy metal does. A certain shade of epic heavy metal riffcraft paired with the pre-’76 Sabbath worship of the best remembered Maryland doom metal spires lends a serious narrative tonality to tautly composed pieces throughout, the effect will hold some natural appeal to fans of Cirith Ungol and Pagan Altar even if the vocals here are tempered down to a simmering bard compared to the old greats. Sitting with ‘The Oath‘ should give a tingling sensation in the back of your skull as you try to recall a band that kinda sounds a lot like this: Age of Taurus is a bit too ‘Lamentations‘-era Solstice in reference, the first Wheel record has some similar gravitas, and the storytelling of Magister Templi comes to mind but they’ve far, far less chill in general. Any direct line-up of the usual suspects doesn’t necessarily shake out in utter similitude. The elemental balance here is fine enough that fans of the sub-genre will take this one in the lungs as if freshest yet familiar air and soon find their attention set upon the memorable songwriting Lord Mountain brings rather than references to tradition.
Presented in eight loosely sewn-together movements that’d comprise a novella-sized quest narrative ‘The Oath‘ begins with the challenge of the Fates, the Norns‘ word presented as final, fatalistic in unchallenged statement on “Well of Fates”. This is just as well a warrior’s creed in presentation, one who lives by the sword and accepts their role in the greater world built who’d neither boast or press complaint upon the situation. With Swanson‘s vocal performances being set aback with echoes whipping about to some degree I’d found the trade-off between riff focused sections, lead-driven breaks, and more expository singing well measured, creating a proper ‘old school’ epic doom metal distance for the vocals without becoming completely buried by the roar of the guitars. Lord Mountain caught my ear right off the bat with their mids-enriched and slightly fuzz scrambled guitar tone, presenting a particularly fine rhythmic commander for their olden feeling set of opening numbers while still making room for the rest of the performances in a wide-open, gilded hall sized space. The mode and feeling of each of the first three pieces (excepting a short instrumental break) maintain a fairly pristine Side A arc wherein the consistency of style is showcased as clever-yet-traditional doom metal songcraft meets impassioned and kicking performances. The bass guitar presence on “The Last Crossing” paired with the harmonized guitar leads which frame the core melody of its major verses collectively constitute the strongest initial argument for ‘The Oath‘ from my point of view.
The path is darker still as their trials mount… yet they soldier on. — The forlorn tonal veil upon Side A does not entirely lift as we crack into the second half of the album but it soon becomes clear we are heading for destination, climax and anomaly as the spirited jog of “Chasm of Time” serves what is unquestionably the most memorable, fist-shaking piece of persistence on the full listen. It is nothing short of a sword singer and no doubt a piece which I’d look forward to on each successive pass. For my own taste Side B steps gloriously beyond the ethereal dread-bound acceptance of Side A with a set of truly stomping heavy metal pieces, all of which I’d found infectious. This momentum built gives some centripetal weight to “The Sacrifice” as the biggest bounding and probably most traditional piece of the lot, though “Serpent Temple” upholds this ideal at a still driving pace, each likely to catch the ear of Candlemass-styled doom metal fans best in the moment. Of course the grand finale of “The Oath” is another apex moment for the warrior caste, soldiering into war knowing death will be the outcome. The lyrics aggrandize this scene but in truth the tone of delivery suggests the fealty of those willing to die for leadership without question is ultimately an ignoble act and the song serves a bit of protest, depending on how the listener would receive it. At the very least it suggests that the meaning attached to ‘The Oath‘ is not limited to escapist fantasy spectacle.
For the well-established heavy/doom metal fandom who’d find most modern bands less than daring, void of personae entirely compared to the old greats I’d suggest that the relatively still waters of Lord Mountain‘s vocal delivery yet run deep with expression and meaning attached and beyond that point the earthen sound design and finely tuned for effect arrangements which ‘The Oath‘ features are worth stewing within. There is a mystic, hypnotic feeling dragged across the imaginative lands these folks have set their story within and that experiential weightiness absolutely appreciated with time and familiarity for the full spin. I’d particularly enjoyed the arc of the album completing in a well-rounded manner, actually kicking up into its energetic register in its second half as it gives the impression of a long and well-considered work with purpose behind its every step. It is an excellent standard to set for a debut full-length and one which’d come unexpectedly well-formed and shining in its own lustre considering past works being fairly sparse. Well worthy of a high recommendation.
|LABEL(S):||King Volume Records,|
|RELEASE DATE:||January 20th, 2023|
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