Grey Stag - Call Of The Mountain review
|Album:||Call Of The Mountain|
|Release date:||March 2023|
02. These Seas Are Deep
03. Steadfast Leviathan
05. Killing Monsters
06. The Adversary
07. Make Their Victory Pyrrhic
08. No Stranger To Pain
10. This Mountain Moves
Sometimes, a band/album name, album artwork and/or genre tag in combination can be enough to convince me that I will dig an album; such was the case with Barishi’s Old Smoke, its spectacular artwork based around a stag, and its promise of progressive sludge metal. Grey Stag’s debut also comes from the world of sludge and also adorns eye-catching artwork featuring a stag, so signs were good here as well; however, while I do like Call Of The Mountain, it’s not charmed me quite in the way I hoped it would.
Grey Stag hail from Dublin, and Call Of The Mountain comes 6 years after the band was formed, during which time they have dropped 2 EPs and a split, as well as performing at Bloodstock Festival in the UK. An increasing number of sludge metal bands seem to be emerging from Ireland, with Soothsayer’s 2021 debut and Golgotha from Northern Ireland’s Elder Druid previously reviewed by myself for Metal Storm. After the replacement of founding drummer Matthew McKenna with Daragh Kenny, Grey Stag have now thrown their hat into the arena.
In terms of what kind of sludge can be found on Call Of The Mountain, perhaps the most obvious stylistic comparison one can make is to early Mastodon; truth be told, it’s not exactly subtle, with “Steadfast Leviathan” sounding like it would fit in naturally on Mastodon’s album Leviathan. There’s a rowdiness to Call Of The Mountain, as well as plenty of heaviness, with crunching riffs delivered with ample distortion, but there’s also a degree of progginess to certain songs as well, with occasional musical detours mid-song, such as a NWOBHM-esque passage late in “Killing Monsters”.
Grey Stag have a clear aptitude for this genre; they have plenty of decent riffs in their locker, from the slow, menacing trudge of the main riff of “These Seas Are Deep”, through the more technical parts of “Steadfast Leviathan” and to the brutish heft of “The Adversary”. I reckon the winner on the riff front is “Sunder”, which has several quality ones that interact well with one another while still finding time for a nice little clean break midway through. All 3 members of the band are also proficient at each of their instruments, with some nice drum fills scattered across the album. Nevertheless, there are certain issues holding Call Of The Mountain back from being as great as it could be.
In previous mixed reviews I’ve given to sludge albums, a major bone of contention has been the vocals, and unfortunately that is somewhat the case here too. There’s nothing all that inherently wrong with the primary approach used here by Matt Geoghegan; without wanting to rely too much on Mastodon comparisons, when I hear the semi-tonal barks used throughout Call Of The Mountain, my mind definitely is taken to Neil Fallon’s cameo on the classic “Blood And Thunder”. It’s a full-blooded approach that isn’t out of place on a sludge album; however, the vocals have been mixed distractingly high on this album in a way that I don’t think benefits them or the surrounding music. Additionally, across the full record, it is an approach that does become somewhat grating, particularly when it ill-fittingly appears during the aforementioned clean passage in “Sunder”, and also when Geoghegan attempts some melodies on “This Mountain Moves” that clash jarringly with the surrounding music. I will say, however, that the more growled style that is used in certain moments on the likes of “Killing Monsters” and “The Adversary” works really well for me.
Still, like with Veilcaste’s record from earlier this year, not all of my issues with Call Of The Mountain come down to the vocals. There are still some occasionally questionable songwriting choices on certain songs that hopefully future records will outgrow. First, that NWOBHM-style section on “Killing Monsters” I mentioned earlier, as well as a slow passage with an unconvincing guitar solo just prior to it, sound quite out of place in the song, and aren’t very naturally transitioned into or out of. There’s also a section later in “Make Their Victory Pyrrhic” about 45 seconds from the end that derails the song’s momentum, with a slightly sloppy feel to it that’s not found elsewhere on the album. Last, this passage leads into “No Stranger To Pain”, a 3-minute clean guitar instrumental interlude that doesn’t really feel all that well thought-out; for such a lengthy interlude, it doesn’t add much to the atmosphere and further derails the album’s momentum due to its lack of development across its runtime.
This is a debut album, and Grey Stag are not yet the finished article, but the core components are definitely there. I can hear the seed of a great record within Call Of The Mountain, just one that’s slightly obscured by a few niggles. Still, creases in their songwriting can be ironed out, and they can explore how best to use and mix the vocals, so I’ll be keeping tabs on the trio to see whether they produce an even better album next time around.
||Written on 23.03.2023 by|
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