Mount Eerie – Sauna
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Phil Elverum’s a modest, soft-spoken, and warm-hearted singer/songwriter based in the misty greenery of Anacortes, Washington. He often tweets quirky, Jack Handey-esque lines like, “Life is just a long series of puberties's, until death, ‘the final puberty’.” For someone so calm and off-kilter, the 36 year-old also has a healthy, deep connection with metal music.
The Microphones’ 2001 release The Glow Pt. 2 was my first segue into Phil Elverum’s repertoire. On that record, fan-lauded album track “The Moon” pulses with hazy trumpets, thrashing guitars, and rambunctious drumming. It flooded me with oddly invigorating melancholy on my first listen. When I consumed the album in its entirety, the experience felt preternatural. I underwent a dream folk trip vivified by gritty, lo-fi production and explosive indie folk. Songs like “I Felt My Size” and “Samurai Sword” embodied the energy I fell for on “The Moon,” while “Headless Horseman” and “I Felt Your Shape” highlighted Elverum’s stripped-down, emotive spirit. It was amazing to hear what Elverum achieved on this masterpiece. I was eager to enter his newest album Sauna, made under the name Mount Eerie, which makes moves toward a more metal sonic palate.
As Mount Eerie, Elverum toured extensively with rootsy doom metal summoners Earth back in 2012, and Earth bassist Karl Blau was even a member of The Microphones. Songs like “(wind lyrics)” (from Song Islands Vol. 2), “Wind’s Dark Poem” (Wind’s Poem), and “Samurai Sword” (The Glow Pt. 2, as The Microphones) embrace stormy, extreme black metal as rendered by iconic soloists Burzum and Xasthur.
Like folk metal men Drudkh and Panopticon, Elverum constructs lyrics based on nature and his surrounding world. However, Elverum’s descriptives are more simple, and he focuses on his spiritual presence within the natural world. On Sauna’s title track, over a sustaining electric organ, a droning gong, and sharply crackling firewood, Elverum hums about the escape he finds in a sauna: “I don’t think the world still exists/ Only the room in the snow/ and the light from coals/ and only this breath.“ The song stresses the power of solitude and keeping oneself warm in the harsh winter. “Dragon” flows over sparse, calm acoustic plucks and turbine-affected winds. Its words pertain to immersing oneself in nature with, “In a palace of water/ nothing is familiar/ and the ground always shakes/ I dive into a pool of uncertainty.”
“Spring” most closely resembles Elverum’s metal roots, and contrasts “Dragon”’s feather-heavy aura. At just over 13 minutes in length (surpassing the 10 minute-long title track), this number incorporates the grueling, bleak sludge of Mount Eerie’s buddies Earth. Ferocious church organs and bright, harmonious choral coos mold “Spring” into a sinisterly majestic opus. “Mind is an ocean,” Elverum preaches atop the song’s graceful commotion, “Thoughts are its waves breaking.”
Sauna dives into styles unexplored by The Glow Pt. 2, like scorching drone on “Sauna” and magnificent doom on “Spring” - along with freaky, Animal Collective-esque folk on “This.” Elverum also re-dabbles in black metalled noise rock on “Boat” and “Planets.” Although he employs richer production on Sauna - straying away from the raw sound I was enamored of on The Glow Pt. 2 - the album’s ambience is better emphasized. By integrating both folk and metal frequencies on Sauna, Phil Elverum created a dynamic and skillful album. It’s much more rewarding than just a complete indulgence in either genre.
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