It’s so damned nice to hear a relatively new band you like move from strength to strength from one release to the next, and Giant of the Mountain have done that. Their new release, Valley of the Rogue, is their best work yet, but it’s more than that. It’s an unusual and unusually good song that should open a forest of eyes.
Yes, the new release by this Texas two-piece is one song — but it’s also a nearly 20-minute long song. Although I haven’t done any scientific surveying, I’d guess that the idea of a 20-minute long song produces more groans than squeals of anticipation among most metal-lovers. And, no doubt, it takes some grapefruit-sized cojones (and ovaries) to attempt something of that magnitude. There are certainly far easier ways to go, especially if you haven’t yet so firmly embedded your place in metal history that you can do whatever the fuck you wish.
But I’m here to tell you that Giant of the Mountain have pulled it off. I suppose that a talented musician could go back through this song and syphon off riffs and motifs and figure out some way to convert it into multiple songs, but this really sounds like a work that was conceived – and works extremely well — as a unitary experience. It isn’t cleanly divided into movements, and it occupies its length naturally. It’s one fascinating head-rush of music, a chaotic symphony of the damned.
Bands conceive descriptions of their musical styles that often seem more like wishful thinking than accurate portrayals, but in the case of Giant of the Mountain, the shorthand description they provide for themselves fits very well for this music: “blackened progressive sludge metal”. However, at the risk of further subdividing the micro-genre and extending its linguistic length, I’d also throw “tech-death” and “doom” into that description, too.
Does all that sound ludicrously fucked up? Of course it does! But it’s true. All of those references fit, and making them fit is Giant of the Mountain’s signal achievement in the creation of Valley of the Rogue.
It’s not hard to figure out where the sludge reference comes in. At almost every step of the way, the sound is massive, granite-heavy, and radioactively fuzzed-out. The production has a scraped-raw level of distortion that feels like the moment when lightening ignited the life in Frankenstein’s monster. There are also some bulldozing riffs in this song that made me think of Melvins — but I didn’t think of any one other band for very long.
Progressive? Hell yes. The song is shot full of tempo- and time-signature transitions and loaded with darting, jabbing guitar leads and the most wondrously nimble bass lines. I found so much to like in the song, but the vivid counterpoint and interplay between the guitar and the bass — both of which are performed at a high level of technical competence by Cody Daniels — gave me the biggest smiles. Even the jet-fueled guitar solos don’t completely stand alone in the spotlight, because the muted, head-whipping bass arpeggios are right there alongside.
Blackened? Yes indeed. Though I would say the blackening is perhaps more part of the chaotic, ruthless aesthetic than the presence of recognizable tropes of the black metal genre. Hyper-active tremolo’d riffs and blast-beat drumming are in the mix, but they don’t dominate. I’d say the blackening is more of the Cormorant or occasionally Watain style than any kind of old-school Nordic scything.
And now for my own added genre references: There were moments in the song when I got flashes of Death, older Pestilence, Necrophagist, Gorod, and even Atheist. The music rarely loses its air of brutality, but as it builds from the beginning it becomes increasingly frenzied and mind-bendingly technical, without losing its structure. I definitely got tech-death flavors from the song.
And doom? Maybe not as much as the other musical styles I’ve been name-checking, but man, the titanic, groaning chords at the beginning of the song brought to mind Noothgrush-style funereal crushing, and at other times the guitar chords brayed like some wounded behemoth dragging itself to a dying place.
The percussion on the album isn’t quite as prominent in the mix as the guitar, the bass, or the vocals. It doesn’t stick out as strikingly or as acrobatically as the drumming does in so much prog and prog-death music, but it fits so well with the flash-fire changes in this music. It’s much more a complement than something that insists on stealing the spotlight. I can’t imagine that designing the drumming for this music was easy, but what Randi Matejowski does always seems to be just the right companion for everything else that’s going down.
And I must highlight the vocals. For the most part they’re throaty, gravelly, sandpaper-scraped growls — harsh, barking, vehement proclamations of the lyrics. On a couple of occasions, they turn into mid-ranged clean vocals that, like everything else unexpected on the album, seem like the right touch at the right time. But those relatively rare moments when Cody Daniels hurls his voice into a caustic shriek may be the highlights — they really will raise the hair on your arms and neck.
I know of few metal songs of this length that don’t have extended passages of repetition, the kind of shoe-gaze-type riffing and rhythm that induce a trance. I have nothing against that — in fact, I love it when it’s done well. But there really are few breathers in this song. Valley of the Rogue is like a jackal at a carcass, full of purposeful activity, tearing and chewing, bolting nimbly away and returning to its themes to rip flesh again.
Valley of the Rogues is available for download on Bandcamp at the price of $WhateverYouFeelLike. I hope you’ll like it enough to throw some dollars down, because we need more of what Giant of the Mountain are doing. Follow them on Facebook here.