Psychedelic rock lyrics are the best. The oftentimes weird imagery has a way of confusing and impressing at the same time. Take Jimi Hendrix’s “Voodoo Child,” a song we’ve all heard a million times. Even if you’ve never really delved into researching any lyrical interpretations for the song, for some reason the imagery will stick with you and will still manage to strike you every time you hear the song. “Well, I stand next to a mountain / And I chop it down with the edge of my hand / Well, I pick up all the pieces and make an island / Might even raise just a little sand” It always seemed that Jimi was talking about something as basic as conquering a challenge and starting anew, or imagined having godlike powers and making a new universe like world-creator (and famous painter) Bob Ross has long advised.
So it only makes sense that we come to this epiphany about “Voodoo Child” while listening to Minneapolis psychedelic sludge outfit, Maeth, right? After all, their latest release, Shrouded Mountain, is the sonic equivalent to knocking down a mountain and building it back up again. This record finds the band flexing their post-metal muscle, making the ebbs and flows of their signature aural growth and decay feel more effortless and natural than ever. By tightening things up and leaving behind the shorter transitory interludes from prior albums in favor of merging everything into what could be a singular song, Shrouded Mountain runs efficient, but overflows with atmosphere and personality.
There’s much to make of Maeth’s sonic palette, and rightfully so. If you’ve heard anything about the band before, you know that they have a uncommon set of tools at their disposal. Flutist/guitarist Sam Tygiel adds a unique dimension, providing soaring lines that both complement the serene passages and accentuate the more intense moments without dominating the overall flavor of the band. He functions as a vocal element instead of a dominant force, allowing the other instruments to pull their weight. The first half of “Verne” captures this range as it weaves in and out of a laser-printed guitar line and then miles above an Isis-esque growled groove. The vocals actually created by human voices nestle nicely within the mix, tastefully shading and coloring things here and there with impassioned, savage screams and meticulous choral arrangements.
While the inclusion of a woodwind will draw a lot of attention, their dual drum approach is also significant. The stomp of album opener “Megalyth” demonstrates their balance and measure with the volume of the rest of the band. Warm natural tones bring to mind the percussion of Pelican’s earlier works, culminating in a sound that is at times primal and jaw-droppingly heavy, and at others fit for a nature documentary with minimalist, organic flourishes. The cymbal use is aptly reserved, letting the toms give an extra punch to Shrouded Mountain’s syncopation and poly-rhythms without getting too busy or congested. The guitars and bass have adequate room to breathe with a throaty tone that comes together in the same ZIP code as Torche or Gojira as much as they find their way to more delicate and intricate places, culminating into sounds that are at times comforting and familiar, and awe-inspiring at others.
Although only one of the album’s five tracks dip below the seven-minute mark, the fluid and near-constant evolution of each number drives things forward, leaving little room for reflection or contemplation. Vamping simply isn’t part of their formula, and it really puts these guys on another level as their contemporaries retread territories that were never really all that interesting in the first place. There’s always something new and immediately worthy of attention, whether they’re manipulating dynamics or developing a new variation on a theme, these dudes have a keen awareness of how to hold the attention of listeners who may not be so resolute in a genre often requiring patience. Album closer “Mammoth God” embodies the contrasts between the dazing heavy segments and mesmerizing tranquil sections, giving scope, building and destroying, emphasizing the temporality of things both delicate and powerful, and ultimately providing some kind of new perspective. It’s hard not to be moved by Shrouded Mountain. The vocabulary of the band is so wide and vibrant, and the technically-sound performance communicates in a way that should strike and stick much like the words of the Voodoo Child.
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Shrouded Mountain is out now on Minnesconsin Records. You can purchase it over here.