The Cold Stares – Mountain

From the moment that Mountain comes smashing through our speakers like a wrecking ball in the song The Great Unknown, there isn’t any debate as to whether or not the countrified grit and garage rock recklessness that The Cold Stares have become known for is alive and well in their follow up to Head Bent.

Ultra-thick guitar riffs and blues-influenced swing is plentiful in Mountain, but this record wasn’t stylized around the epic riffing of front man Chris Tapp alone.

Drummer Brian Mullins puts on an absolutely stellar performance behind the drum kit, evenly dispatching textured percussion that makes evocative tunes like Friend of Mine, Stickemup and the boisterous Gone Not Dead come alive under the pressure of his sticks. Blanketed in an insular production that magnifies the bands heaviness tenfold, The Cold Stares’ latest album is a brilliant exhibition in big grooves and even bigger licks.

Mountain doesn’t completely center on heavy guitar rock. There’s plenty of ominously dark folk music ala the haunting Under His Command and the reverberating Wade In The Darkness, the latter recalling shades of an Uncle Anesthesia-era Screaming Trees. The tracks vary quite significantly in tone and volume, but they all share an emotional depth that is startlingly gripping even at its most vulnerable and intimately personal.

Child of God and The River are two songs that are stylized on polar opposite sides of the pop spectrum, but both feel intricately related somehow. Tapp fashions himself as a shaman leading us through a terrible storm by the light of his swaggering guitar play in this record, and though the stoic melodies and black and white mix of the vocals test our will, we’re never abandoned for the whole of the journey.

Sleeping With Lions is the most gritty produced song on the album, yet its sterling harmony is so affective and stirring that its rough edges seem almost beautiful and deliberate.

There’s no escaping the stomp of vintage Delta blues in this record, and even when Mullins injects a song like Two Keys and a Good Book with a jazzy, somewhat post-rock flavor, the grind of Tapp’s soulful solos is a constant, dominating presence. The tonality of this record is buried within in the foreboding stride of its songs. “

Killing Machine deceptively leads us into the closing title track thinking that The Cold Stares are about to unleash an omnipotent heat that has been building up throughout the album. Instead, they end the record with an optimistic, Celtic-style folk jam that comes out of nowhere but ties everything that we’ve heard together in just under four minutes of playing time.

Mountain is an exquisitely produced and mixed album; even in tracks that focus almost squarely on lead singer Chris Tapp’s bluesy strut, Brian Mullins is artfully crafting a pulsating beat that reshapes the mood of the song entirely. The duality of their sound isn’t as contrasting as it was in their last record, which is definitely a step in the right direction for their music moving forward.

I would even go as far as to argue that these compositions seem much more thoughtful and tempered than their predecessors did, which tells me that The Cold Stares have matured substantially in the last couple of years. Their new record is a breakthrough moment for their craftsmanship and a sound that they’ve truly made their own, and as a blues fan myself I couldn’t be more pleased with its tremendously gratifying content.

 

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