“Chronicle I: The Truthseeker”: Mountain Caller’s Clever Heaviness Speaks Volumes (Early Stream + Track-By-Track)
Copious lyrics are usually part and parcel of concept albums -- they set out context, tell a story, and build images in listeners' heads. London's Mountain Caller proposes an alternate approach: skip the lyrics, bring the riffs, and fashion the bones of a grand adventure in our skulls for our own imaginations to bring to life. Welding heavy jams to expansive prog leanings, Chronicle I: The Truthseeker more than justifies the colon in its title with the unrestrainedly creative journey that its six songs embark on. We're premiering the whole album now, along with a track-by-track walkthrough of the album from the band to add flesh to your own mental skeleton.
There's a huge amount of variation in this album -- though mostly it slots into triumphant, complex progressive doom, everything from post-metal to krautrock pops up along the way. The band has no issue executing whisper-soft textures in one moment and launching into thunderous avalanches the next, nor with dedicating half of a song to building quiet, thoughtful suspense only for the second half to unleash gladiatorial death-dealing heaviness.
These shifts are smartly architected and fun to uncover. Opening track "Journey Through the Twilight Desert" starts off as smart 1970s-ish prog rock with just a touch of stoner groove, even including a bass bridge calling back to Fleetwood Mac's "The Chain" -- except, this one leads to a cavalcade of black metal and post-metal. My favorite track has to be "Clamour of Limbs," which, among other surprises, packs mathy freakouts, mournful Trouble-reminiscent riffs, and metallic proggery all into six minutes.
Chronicle I: The Truthseeker sticks with me in a curious way, despite not having much in the way of lyrics to memorize. The inventive riffs and song structures have a narrative flair to them: a storytelling capacity woven into the notes that lures in our subconscious. Your brain takes note, setting these songs and feelings aside for gleeful recollection the next time you listen to the album.
Instrumental bands, especially so in the stoner realm, catch flak for a seeming lack of hooks and memorability, but Mountain Caller has both in excess. As you walk the path of the Truthseeker, a grand adventure unfurls in detail: one made from rattling fuzz and clever melody that, fittingly, culminates in a wall of noise.
To help guide your listening experience, the band (guitarist Claire, bassist El, and drummer Max) have put together a track-by-track rundown of the album.
"Journey Through The Twilight Desert" joins our Protagonist having recently awoken on the shore of an unknown land. With an endless ocean behind her, her only option is to forge onwards inland, and she comes across a vast desert. She sets out into it to explore, with only what she could salvage washed ashore and whatever she can find in this barren land. What she’ll find, and what she’s hoping to find, are unknown.
This was the first widely released Mountain Caller single, and the first track on Chronicle I: The Truthseeker. It’s a great summation of what we do: the dynamics, the colliding influences, each instrument playing its own unique part. It was very much through-composed, starting with El’s drum ‘n’ bass tinged intro, continuing with a signature sledgehammer-Simmo riff, through moments of quiet contemplation to blast beats, until the initial riff is reprised, familiar but altogether changed from its travels.
"Feast at Half-Light City" picks right up from where the previous track leaves off and sees The Protagonist approaching a mysterious city hewn from the canyon walls deep in The Twilight Desert. She encounters a mysterious tribe who are in the midst of a great feast. There are tables filled with food and wine, and the atmosphere is electric. They discover her and she’s invited to join them, which after a long journey through The Twilight Desert is most welcome. There’s music, dancing and a cacophony of unfamiliar sounds and bouncing off the canyon walls. As she begins to relax she sees a group of tribespeople start walking towards her. She tries to stand but can’t. Her legs are too heavy and then her vision starts to blur. Before she can get away she passes out. She’s been drugged.
This track has more of a loose, jammy feel to it. The kind of music we would play if we were the house band for a tavern in a trippy desert. For the most part it’s upbeat and fun as we wanted to capture the mood of the feast. The track builds and ends with uncomfortable, dissonant guitars underpinned by a heavy bass riff and pounding drums.
"I Remember Everything" is our second single, and the only track on the album with a title written in the first person - and for good reason. After the pursuit through the stone corridors of Half-Light City with her consciousness gradually ebbing away, The Protagonist awakens a prisoner. She opens her eyes to dim, dusty light, and feels the weight of shackles on her wrists and ankles. Forcing herself upright, she realises she’s in a small barred cell along a stone tunnel. She sees daylight at the end of it, and hears the swelling roars of a huge crowd and the sound of combat. Just as she manages to take in these few details, she is overwhelmed by a flood of incoherent memories - sharp flashes of herself in a strangely familiar city, a feeling of dread, a need to act, a sudden sense of self… of power. Triggered by her traumatic capture and the drugs in her system, memories keep forcing their way to the surface until they fall into order. She remembers who she is. She knows her name. She knows that it was she, unable to control her immense power, that laid waste to the ruined city in which she awakened. She knows what she has to do.
For now though, she must survive. Her captors come to collect her. She will be forced to fight for her life in their arena.
This was an incredibly fun song to write. We had very much hit our stride with the narrative and had a clear sense of the world in which it was taking place. The difference here was writing music to illustrate someone’s internal thoughts and feelings rather than outward action. The track moves from patterned melodies that loop and descend in anticipation into big walls of chordal riffs that tell of the dramatic and painful onslaught of her memories. Between these onslaughts, the bass and drums keep precise yet off-kilter-feeling rhythms while the guitar muses over the top as she tries to piece it all together - getting closer to coherence, and then being dashed again by confusion. I really wanted the guitar and bass in particular to weave in and around each other like twisting thoughts throughout this track. There’s a moment of quiet introspection with a twinkling glockenspiel (which I WILL play live one day!) and the bass as she finally unravels enough of it, and takes deep breaths in the long, clean chords. The song finishes with triumphant-sounding cadences and hints of the military in the snare rolls as she becomes resolute and determined. She knows who she is, and she’s ready to face whatever comes next.
"Trial By Combat" is the grand battle scene. Our Protagonist is forced out into the great Half-Light City Amphitheatre, to do battle and (in theory) become a gruesome sacrifice. All manner of terrible, towering beasts are set loose in the arena. Empowered and emboldened by her realisations in the cells, she fights back with ferocity unexpected by all, most of all herself. Her power as yet uncontrolled, it’s a harrowing and bloody battle. She emerges victorious, having slaughtered all her opponents. But unfortunately for her, the people of Half-Light City are not gracious losers.
The opening of this track is Mountain Caller’s “full doom” moment. It starts out at our slowest and most meditative, a time of preparation, consolidation, gearing up. It picks up with Claire’s soaring lead line, which we referred to in the rehearsal room as “the gladiatorial bit”, and that’s when the amphitheatre battle imagery began to take shape in the song. Then it was about soundtracking the franticness of the fight, slaying hordes of minions and felling great beasts. This is where the bass really shines, with its thunderous, earth-rending power.
"A Clamour of Limbs" sees The Protagonist fleeing the battle arena pursued by undead hordes unleashed upon her by her furious former captors. Quite a few of our songs have atmospheric, considered openings, so for this chase I set out to write discordant riffs with a faster tempo and a frenetic feel. This track also features some of my favourite rhythm section moments of the album, and my favourite guitar solo.
The guitar, bass and drums for the intro all came out together. We wanted listeners to be able to picture the jerky, scrambling movements of the undead hordes tumbling over one-another in their pursuit of The Protagonist, just a few steps behind her. The second section is a Max special, with angular rhythms and quick time signature changes that serve to escalate the urgency of the chase. Time then seems to slow down for The Protagonist as she makes a desperate bid to escape their clutches by leaping off a cliff into a dark lake below, and we drop into a huge, filthy, 1970s heavy metal riff as she collides with water and swims onwards, with the bodies of her pursuers slamming helpless into the water behind her. I originally wrote this for something else, but the band knew it would be perfect for this scene. Claire composed a searing solo for this that I adore - it’s one that to this day I walk around the house humming. Max’s drums on this section are wonderful - he just sits back into the beat and lets it drag ever so slightly. I can’t control my face when we play it.
As The Protagonist takes shelter in an abandoned building, holds her breath and listens to the sounds of the undead below, we go into full horror film soundtrack mode. Claire’s high-tension guitar notes wail over the top of creepy whispers and the un-counted bass and drums (which we always play by sight and ear only) that represent the shuffling, tumbling clamour of undead limbs finding their way up the stairs, and a long note bend and pause she she waits, hoping they’ll pass by. They burst into the room and the chase begins anew.
CW: coming out experiences.
This track has another layer of meaning, and it’s this that meant we added a short vocal section. This part of our hero’s story also represents my personal experience of coming out as a lesbian when I was a teenager. As per the double-chase in our song, it’s not something you face just once, and in the early days it was easily as frightening as a quick-zombie chase. It still is for millions of people around the world. The slavering creatures symbolise fear, expectation, and all the things one hears from the world about oneself. The barely perceptible whispers on this track are actually some of the things that were said to me during that time, and the lone vocal line tells of their enduring impact. Nobody need be concerned though, this is an old story for me!
"Dreamspirals" sees The Protagonist emerging from the dank, dark caves into a vast open space with sunlight pouring over the mountains in the distance and an abundance of green vegetation stretched out before her. This is where she begins to not only fully realise the extent of her powers. She’s so powerful that she finds she can change the colour of flowers and plants, make the grass grow twenty foot high, and can even bend light and move the clouds in the sky. She feels a renewed sense of purpose and sets off again, determined to find her way home.
Even before we had finished writing this track we knew we wanted to close the album with it. This is an example of where the music helped to shape the story writing. We wanted to finish with something beautiful, epic and uplifting which is what we have here with "Dreamspirals". It’s such a moving piece of music to us and the ending is exactly how we wanted to finish the album. The riffs, the drums, the tone, the power when all three instruments coming together. Oof! That was Mountain Caller’s debut album. We hope you enjoyed the ride.