Not to be confused with the ultra-hip Californian indie band The Mountain Goats, the Grand Rapids, Michigan, sludge outfit Mountain Goat offer aural cruelty and scraping madness on their Hydro-Phonic Records split with fellow hometown heroes, black metallers The Crowned Virgin. Even with both bands contributing a total of eight tracks, I’d still count it as an EP, since with just four cuts each and a total runtime of 29 minutes, the release gives more of a sampling from Mountain Goat and The Crowned Virgin than it expresses a complete idea from either, but in letting people know what they’re all about, it succeeds entirely. Between Mountain Goat’s (again, not The Mountain Goats) riotous doom maelstrom and the rasping primitivism of The Crowned Virgin, it’s not hard to get what both bands want out of the split. They want you, in pain.
The Mountain Goat formula is relatively simple, but remarkably effective. Feedback, riffs, crashes, screams; the makings of sludge modernity brought to life. But Mountain Goat, particularly from the placement of the vocals – which have a similar unsettling edge to their screams as the original leaders of American black metal or even some of Pig Destroyer’s earliest work – bring the established tropes of the genre into their own context. Their four songs (“Tuskin,” the faster “Necromatik,” “Slumber” and “Covenance Cauldron”) groove like undulating stoner metal, but the sounds are undeniably evil. With production rawer than that of the band’s prior Smoke Filled Land 7” (also on Hydro-Phonic), the meanness of the tracks comes through sounding live and brutal. The droning feedback that ends “Necromatik” more or less sets the atmosphere on its own, and that atmosphere carries across the other tracks to come. As the next wave of sludge rises with bands like Thou and Salome, it’s easy to see how Mountain Goat could fit in that echelon of disturbing sonics.
There is a volume drop on the CD before The Crowned Virgin’s half of the split begins, and they start out with a sample about Armageddon preceding the track “Battle Cry.” Their production is also raw, and the lower volume only adds to that feel. I was surprised to learn the band are Christian, though it actually has little effect on the listening experience, since vocalist Jeffery Husselman, in either his low death growls or high-pitched screeches, is largely indecipherable. Musically, one can hear shades of early Emperor and Behemoth in the more death metal breakdowns, but The Crowned Virgin’s bent toward extremity rather gives an impression more Swedish when it comes to black metal. That they like Jesus is neither here nor there. The music offers a few genuinely killer moments, like the headbanging central riff of “Existence Denied” or the stomp that concludes closer “Goliath Must Fall.” They’re an odd pairing for Mountain Goat – I suppose Grand Rapids was the uniting factor – but it works somehow too. Both bands are born from a fertile underground and offer a twist on what’s expected within their genre.
Though Mountain Goat is much nearer the lines of my personal taste, I can see the value in what The Crowned Virgin are doing as well. The bare-bones sound of both recordings brings them together despite the difference in volume, and all in all, the split works because it appeals to a primordial affection for the given genres of the two bands. The elements are here, and for two acts in the process of finding and refining their respective sounds, they’re well-presented. It’s a quick look at both bands, but for fans of either Mountain Goat’s or The Crowned Virgin’s style, their split shows further investigation is well-warranted.
Tags: Grand Rapids, Hydro-Phonic Records, Michigan, Mountain Goat, The Crowned Virgin