Immediately on This Mountain Waits, the vibe is “old soul.” The second album by UK-based heavy blues rocking five-piece Pearl Handled Revolver, the 11-track collection released on King Mojo Records never, ever veers into vintage production or departs from a modern feel, but there’s a classic sensibility underscoring the songs all the same. It comes across in the throaty, excellently-mixed vocals of Lee Vernon and in the synth, Mellotron and other key work of Simon Rinaldo, who fleshes out the melodic depth of Andy Paris‘ guitar while Oli Carter‘s bass and Chris Thatcher‘s drums hold down smooth grooves, tossing a little funk into “The Red, White and Blues” but keeping a straightforward edge to This Mountain Waits opener “Do it Again.”
The sophomore outing follows a mostly-numerical series of EPs and the 2011 full-length debut, Colossus, and with Vernon‘s vocal approach, live-feeling echo and periodically jazz-minded influence in the keys, some measure of Doors comparison on quieter cuts like the riding-on-the-storm “Josey,” “Rattle Your Bones” or the more raucous earlier stomper “Johnny’s in the Basement” is inevitable, and by all accounts it’s not something Pearl Handled Revolver are unaware of. Still, the pervading feel of the album is original, and familiar aspects are offset by curves like the piano-into-organ-led “Hourglass,” which develops some of the band’s moodier moments into a deceptively rich build. Carter provides a classy performance on bass front to back, and while the keys by their very nature sometimes take the focus away from the guitar, Paris does an excellent job in reinforcing the dynamic on a song like “Hello Mary,” grounding the ’60s psych feel of Rinaldo‘s keys with a distorted strum to go with Thatcher‘s hi-hat verses.
A sort of apex seems to take hold with “Rabbit Hole,” which kicks into insistent bursts of low and high end volume before embarking on a winding transitional line that gives This Mountain Waits not only a thicker tonality — probably their “heaviest” stretch of the album as it moves into a darker headspace — but a prog-leaning sensibility as well. Vernon is a steady presence at the fore, but where his singing could easily fall into the category of unfortunate heavy rock vocalists who are way too far in front of the music and over-the-top in their whoa-momma-yeah bluesiness, he’s better balanced all around with the music behind, so that the drama of “Honeycomb” comes across without distraction. Ultimately, as the title line is delivered as the last of the album, it’s the overall balance that is working most in This Mountain Waits‘ favor, since for the aesthetic the band has taken on — progressive, classic, heavy, blues rock — there’s little margin for flubs, and though the tracks sound wholly natural, they’re also crisply presented and clear-headed in where they want to move.
That accomplished feel lends credibility to Pearl Handled Revolver‘s adopting of the more classic aesthetic and the fact that they manage to get through This Mountain Waits without falling prey to the trap of sonic redundancy makes the album even more on the winning end. As my first experience with the band, I found This Mountain Waits to be engaging and cohesive with an individual take on a broad range of traditions, and easily worth the effort of a listen. How they might continue to develop the intricacies presented here is anyone’s best guess, but in the meantime, their blues are infectious.