Cold Blue Mountain – Self-Titled Vinyl Review

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In 2012 Cold Blue Mountain trudged onto the metal scene via a self-titled release available only on cassette (a format that seems to be staging a remarkable comeback in certain circles) and digital download. The band’s label, the fledgling Gogmagogical, have now returned to this early monstrosity and pressed it on vinyl (300 copies on virgin black, 100 copies on a beautiful white and blue platter) so that those who missed out the first time can now own a physical version of this quite excellent record. It is a purchase you won’t regret. Gogmagogical and CBM have gone that extra mile in creating the vinyl edition. The disc comes housed in a standard black sleeve but is wrapped in an outer cover that looks to be a hand-made, silk-screened job. Beautifully crafted, the outer cover features Matt Loomis’ sinister artwork in a cold, silver ink whilst inside you’ll find the track-listing and credits. A poster is also included (marginally smaller than A3 size) which features different art (found on the band’s Tees if you want to check it out via the Gogmagogical store) and full lyrics. In short, it is a beguiling package for a record collector even before you get to the music. Hell, for those who like their music on the go you even get a digital download card that can be redeemed at the increasingly ubiquitous Bandcamp platform.

Picture discs and coloured vinyl are a weakness of mine it has to be said. For all that I buy records primarily because I prefer the sound, I get suckered in by a limited, coloured platter every time. This is often a mistake, with coloured discs often putting out a much higher level of surface noise than their obsidian cousins (for more on this, head on over to The Metal Advisor and read this excellent article on the subject) but the first notable thing about CBM’s offering is that it sounds rock solid despite the fact that it is, without a doubt, one of the most eye-catching discs to have come my way in some time. With one half translucent blue and the other half a pure white it looks amazing, and the fact that it sounds equally impressive says much about the quality control of Gogmagogical.

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Musically CBM is a revalation. Listed as sludge/doom, in truth the band offer so much more that any attempt to fully categorise them is like trying to count the grains of sand on a beach during an earthquake, so whilst the album is certainly rooted in all things heavy, the band’s inspiring versatility is what will make this an easy favourite for many new fans. However, for all that the album delights in tangents, there is no question that CBM aren’t out to cause bodily harm with their brutal riffs. Opening track ‘branch Davidian compound’ is a furious, Mastadon-trumping blur of seething riffs, tribal drumming and Brandon Squyres’ unholy roar that abruptly U-turns half way through to slow down to a Khanate-aping crawl across broken glass amidst the sound of harrowing screams and throbbing bass. It’s a stunning opening to the record and if CBM were to simply adhere to this formulae for the rest of the album it’s hard to imagine anyone complaining. ‘Time flies like an arrow’ takes a completely different path, however, opening on a contemplative note that owes more to Neurosis and, bizarrely Sonic Youth, than to conventional doom. As the beat comes slamming in, the twin guitarists Will McGahan and Sesar Sanchez layer blazing, atonal guitar riffs upon one another, building up a molten flow that does much to suggest what Sonic Youth would have sounded like if they’d embraced metal over punk all those years ago. As if to offset any danger of moving too far into the twisted embrace of art rock ‘PTSD’ opens with a raw throated vocal assault powered by bile and the crushing groove of Daniel Taylor’s percussive assault, before taking a giant step into the left-field territory of Isis and the Red Sparrowes via the gnarled melodicism of the intertwining guitar riffs. ‘Dark Secret’ (which closes the side) is the sort of high-octane groove which many bands wish they could throw down at will but rarely seem able. A cross between Kyuss and Sabbath, it is the music of the desert, all red hot sand and mirage-drenched cacti brought into the heart of your home via the band’s imaginative and evocative riffing.

Side two opens with ‘MK Ultra’, a track steeped in the music of Deep Purple thanks to Daniel Taylor taking a turn on the organ whilst the song itself flits between brutal passages of tortured screaming and howling blizzard guitars and scenes of near pastoral beauty offset by Brandon’s unhinged gasp. ‘White north’ launches itself from the heart of its predecessor and it has a groove that could flatten Godzilla, the palm-muted riffs given extra lift by the graceful bass of Zach Ahern (later replaced by Adrian Hammons). ‘Lone pine’ again suggests the influence of the mid-90s alternative scene, albeit amped to the max and topped with vocals torn from the mouth of hell itself. ‘Comatose’ opens with a pulsing bass line that suggests ill-fortune, whilst the winding guitar lines slither and slide across the titanium groove laid down by the rhythm section. ‘MK outro’, finally, rounds out side II with a haunting piano melody that is unexpected and yet proves to be the perfect way to close the disc.

With the music industry seemingly collapsing under the weight of its own mediocrity, the one benefit to come out of the continuing trend for buying digital media is the rise of a handful of genuinely independent record labels (such as Gogmagogical) who understand their audience and craft releases accordingly. Peaceville is probably the largest such label (and with the longest history), releasing limited vinyl runs to fans who still believe in the magical power of a physical product (again, I urge you to head over to Metal Advisor whose passion for vinyl is only outstripped by their ability to write intelligently about the music industry in modern times), but a number of other labels now exist (such as the mighty Inferno or Gogmagogical) whose passion, care and expertise allow music fans the opportunity to hear stunning music via a physical format put together with real care. Cold Blue Mountain is one such release. Musically it is outstanding, drawing together a wide array of underground threads to craft music that is genuinely deep and rewarding, repaying multiple listens with a breadth and depth of song-writing that marks these five musicians out as a very special group of individuals. Here there is power and groove, but there is also an avant-garde sensibility that sees the riffs often flare out of control and blaze brightly in the darkness, even as Brandon’s coruscating scream tears holes in the music. This is dark, powerful and extreme music, but played with a sense of invention and exploration that is hypnotic and addictive. Cold Blue Mountain is a record that you should track down at your earliest opportunity – it is a decision you will certainly not regret.

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