On the Radar: Cold Blue Mountain

Posted in On the Radar on August 26th, 2013 by JJ Koczan

Though it could’ve come just easily from the side of a can of cheapshit beer, the moniker Cold Blue Mountain nonetheless evokes a sense of something big, covered in snow and unconquerable. It’s as though the members of the NorCal fivesome were boozing it up while trying to think of a name for the band and had an epiphany moment. Whether or not that’s how it went down ultimately matters little when it comes to taking on their 2012 self-titled debut, released on Gogmagogical Records, because the impression you go into it carrying is the same either way. Expect largesse and bludgeonry and you’ve got at least a beginning understanding of where the Chico-based group are coming from, although that’s by no means the limits of what the lineup of screamer Brandon Squyres, guitarists Will McGahan and Sesar Sanchez, bassist Adrian Hammons and drummer Daniel Taylor have to offer.

Hammons and Squyres were formerly to be found in Seventh Rule Recordings hardcore-infused crushers The Makai, but Cold Blue Mountain are coming from somewhere much sludgier in terms of the overall base of influence. The self-titled, which comes on blue and white vinyl, on tape or in disembodied mp3s, begins with “Branch Davidian Compound,” and the oppressive tonality of the guitars is immediate. A dense recording by Scott Barwick at Origami Lounge in Chico gives a kind of claustrophobic feeling as Squyres switches between lower growls and higher-pitched screaming, gradually layering the two over a slowdown for extremity’s sake, but the low end is where the heaviness resides, and Taylor‘s drumming does a well in complementing. At 4:01, “Branch Davidian Compound” is the longest song on the album (immediate points), but it’s hardly a summary of everything Cold Blue Mountain get up to stylistically, as “Time Flies Like an Arrow” quickly shows with a brooding but tense guitar intro, hinting at not only post-metal ambience, but also some of the terra-worship that has become an essential part of the genre these last few years. They’re not country twanging by any stretch, and sure enough, the song takes off brutally around the halfway mark — the toms fill a break with a sound no less thick than any of the other tones presented — but it’s there underlying and it shows up again later in the piano of the finale, “MK Outro.”

Perhaps the most post-metallic of all in terms of its basic riff and structure is “Post Traumatic Stress Disorder,” which measures out a jagged rhythm in starts and stops for its verse progression and builds on them with post-rock noodling in a more open-feeling chorus, Squyres topping both with searing screams. There aren’t verses and chorus as such, but the parts fit together well one to the next, and lighter flourish in the guitar during a brief break stands as precursor to some of what’s to come on later cuts like “Lone Pine” and “Comatose,” though the subsequent “White North” does an even better job at that, making me wonder if perhaps multiple songwriters are at work in Cold Blue Mountain — the band’s interplay of the sonically dark and light being contrasting enough between tracks, despite the band having positioned songs well throughout. “White North” is short at 2:36, but though they don’t waste time in the material there or really anywhere else throughout the record, Cold Blue Mountain‘s tracks are in no way lacking presence, “MK Ultra” taking hold from “White North” with an ambient pulse that you could almost call psychedelic were it not so vehemently grounded. A build brings on more post-rock guitar and growling over a slow, nodding groove and a sudden switch to quiet noodling interplay between McGahan and Sanchez, soon to be accompanied as well by Squyres. The return to full-brunt is well announced, but still satisfies, and though “Dark Secret” tosses in some more upbeat metallized riffing in its midsection, the momentum of the songs is set by then.

That riffing in particular should stand out as something Cold Blue Mountain haven’t done before on the album when it arrives, and it’s a sequence that — though contrasted in the same song by a stretch of ambient echoing guitar and bass-driven groove — continues to be developed over the remainder of the album. “Dark Secret” also boasts one of Cold Blue Mountain‘s most satisfying payoffs; an undulating riff played out patiently and at a tempo so fitting its largesse as to border on the masterful. There are those who immediately shun screamed vocals. Off you go. I think they add to a track like “Dark Secret” a level of expression that clean singing couldn’t, and that, like everything else, a good scream has its place. Whether or not that place is over an upbeat, major-key bopper like “Lone Pine,” I don’t know, but it’s genuinely a take on Torche‘s style that I’ve yet to hear and for that alone I’m inclined to go with it. A slowdown offsets the initial bounce and once more Cold Blue Mountain‘s wall of riff nestles into a patient chug as Squyres meets it head on with noduled vocal cords. The subsequent “Comatose” — which is really the proper closer since the reprise “MK Outro” is just that — continues the lighter feel (though there’s still plenty of weight in the low end) the lead lines in the guitars reminding of the time Slow Horse took on Chris Isaak‘s “Wicked Game,” though at 2:31, the entire thing is shortlived, however satisfying its stomp may have been. Piano makes an already noted appearance on “MK Outro” with lines echoing out into suitably chilled atmospheres and Cold Blue Mountain finish by giving a sense of just how little of their overall breadth they may have shown their first time out.

Or hell, maybe that’s everything they’ve got, who knows? Somehow though, I doubt it. Cold Blue Mountain have plenty of familiar aspects in their sludge, post-metal and ambient take, but there’s a personality underlying that emerges on cuts like “Lone Pine,” “Comatose” and even “White North” that taken in combination with the rest provides a sense of individuality that hopefully the band will continue to refine as they move forward. Until then, their debut effectively blends atmospherics and tonal push so as to not necessarily rely on big riffs to get its point across, but certainly be able to capitalize on them when it so chooses.

Cold Blue Mountain, Cold Blue Mountain (2012)

Cold Blue Mountain on Thee Facebooks

Gogmagogical Records

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