At the beginning of this year, the name Mountain Caller was only known by a select few devoted to the depths of the underground post-metal scene. However - to be put mildly - a lot has changed within the past twelve months. Formed of Claire Simson (Guitars), El Reeve (Bass) and Max Maxwell (Drums), the trio have spent the majority of the year creating quaking tremors in the post-metal scene by offering tantalising glimpses of their then upcoming record. Yet it was only on November 6th that the world saw the full power of the band with the release of their debut Chronicle I: The Truthseeker via New Heavy Sounds.
Like the eruption of the great Krakatoa, the release blasted the act into the eye of the national scene, with their all-levelling cinematic blend of prog, doom and post-metal raising the top soil of the scene that birthed them. Affluently abundant in substance, the record takes clear influence from the unquestionable titans of the scene prior to articulating their own identity with crystal charisma. The searing fretwork reminiscent of Russian Circles and Maybeshewill is tearing, the infinite soundscapes of *Shels and Caspian are explored thoroughly and the possessed mantras of Sleep and Monolord are exercised all whilst sounding entirely personal. Even if the record does stray down paths leading towards more aurally punishing realms at stages, the record is still undeniably a post-metal goliath. It’s one that gives the impression that the unit has spent years studding the blueprints on how to release such an offering. However, as Maxwell details, the overall sound of the record wasn’t intentional and merely a product of their collective influences, both musically and culturally.
“When we started the band, we didn’t really set out with any particular genre in mind, and to this day we try not to reject any musical ideas because they don’t ‘fit’ genre wise’”, he states. “It usually just ends up sounding like Mountain Caller when we play it together anyway. There’s quite a range of influences in there. Bands like Elder, Cult Of Luna, Metallica, Converge and Kikagaku Moyo are ones we all adore. Claire’s a self-confessed 90s child, so there’s a lot of Alice In Chains grunge-ness in there, as well as a tinge of Nirvana from my Dave Grohl obsession. El loves Queen and Oceansize and I know they were big sources of inspiration for the record, as well as classic thrash like Megadeth. We also draw a lot from classical music, and that really influenced how we arranged a lot of the music instrumentally."
“We’re all very politically and socially conscious, and that really underpins the concept of the record. We also all adore classic Sci-Fi and action movies. So Star Wars, Alien, Star Trek, Arnie films, Die Hard. I’m a horror obsessive. El loves Dungeons and Dragons, and keeps a beady eye on developments in space exploration. There’s an unashamed passion within those things and their cultures, and I think that’s reflected in our music. We’re not ashamed of being geeks about things and about caring deeply about art.”
"We didn’t want the record to sound too polished, but wanted it clear enough that you could hear each individual element with our music and that it still sounded big and expansive, and we feel he walked that line perfectly.”
Despite Chronicle I: The Truthseeker not inherently beginning it’s life as preplanned post-metal monolith, the fact of the matter it’s exactly that. Colossal and expansive, the record combines all the elements that make the sound of the genre so expansive and encompassing. Whilst the band themselves are directly responsible for crafting this beast, a range of individuals specialising in the area of progressive metallic atmosphere also nurtured it’s development, one of those being Joe Clayton. Famed for both his aurally magnificent work in Pijn and being a highly demanded producer at Manchester’s No Studio, Clayton manned the helm during the recording of the album back at the very start of the year, back when release shows where a feasible idea. Even then with Clayton working directly within the heart of all things progressively originated, with him previously producing releases by Earth Moves, Curse These Metal Hands and Ithaca, the connection felt between the band and producer was instantly tangible and played into the sound of the album. As Maxwell details;
“We had a Zoom call with Joe to chat about what we were going for, and instantly felt that he understood us and was on the same page. He got all the reference points we used in terms of sound and, being in Pijn, understood our conceptual, progressive mindset. I had such clear ideas of how I wanted each section of the songs to sound, often from bar to bar, and he was so receptive and methodical with making sure everything sounded great. We didn’t want the record to sound too polished, but wanted it clear enough that you could hear each individual element with our music and that it still sounded big and expansive, and we feel he walked that line perfectly.”
Even with Clayton working in perfect tangent with the trio, another individual that collaborated with Mountain Caller on the record is none other than arguable post-metal royalty Magnus Lindberg. Known primary as the force behind the ceremonial Cult Of Luna, to collaborate with such an illustrious and decorated icon, let alone a primary inspiration, was nothing less than “Surreal” in accordance to Maxwell. Understandably, to have such an icon master your first release was indeed an experience.
“Joe had worked with him on Pijn’s last album Loss, and so he recommended Magnus to us. Obviously, Loss sounds wonderful, as does everything Cult Of Luna do. And there was the added bonus of a member of Cult Of Luna having to sit down and listen intently to our music. Again, he was very receptive and accommodating, making sure everything wasn’t too compressed but still sounded powerful. He sent us a master that I think we were very happy with initially, but he later sent another one, completely unprompted, just because he thought he’d made it better (which he had). That’s testament to his care and attention to detail, and his genuine want to make things the best he can.”
"The concept developed very organically. We all think very visually when we were making music, and we all had very clear visions of what the music was representing in the story during writing. It came very much intertwined with the songwriting, neither concept nor music really comes first.”
Even if Chronicle I: The Truthseeker is a phenomenal and groundbreaking slab of originative post-metal sonically, what lifts it above the rest is it’s running narrative and conceptual focus. A journey of discovery both in terms of music and oneself, the record centres around a feminist allegory, one expressed vividly in the form of a narrative detailing an unnamed female protagonist voyaging through mystical landscapes fraught with peril and mystery. Across the record, the protagonist navigates barren landscapes, explores lost civilisations and combats both man and beast. It narrates such scenes cinematically; both narrative and soundtrack migrates in tandem, with the atmosphere of adventurism being tangible throughout the debut.
“The storyline is an Odyssean journey of discovery,” elaborates Maxwell on the topic. “At the start of the record, we join our unnamed female Protagonist journeying through a mysterious desert. She comes across an unknown civilisation, has to fight for her life against gladiatorial beasts and ravenous hordes, and discovers a power and an agency hitherto unknown to her. There’s more to the story to be added to on future releases, but that’s what the album covers so far. The concept developed very organically. We all think very visually when we were making music, and we all had very clear visions of what the music was representing in the story during writing. It came very much intertwined with the songwriting, neither concept nor music really comes first.”
For a genre and global scene often associated with male dominance and stoicism, to see such a young band using the sounds of the genre to narrate topics of feminism and banish toxic stereotypical notions is a welcome breath of fresh air. It’s also one that set’s fine precedent for the emerging scene as a whole. Despite this, Maxwell is aware of the responsibilities that come with creating feminist orientated work as a male. Many cis men in recent years have attempted work that promotes feminism, often to subpar or misguided results. However, this record is a far cry from such misaimed pieces of work.
“Overarchingly, the story is about breaking free of preconceived notions or conventions,” continues the drummer. “We all take slightly different things from it personally. From my point of view as a man, I see it as a challenging of the lies that we’ve all been culturally sold about women: their lack of strength, capability, and agency, the rigid beauty standards, their inferiority to men, among many many others. The Protagonist in our story started out unaware of her own potential, unaware that there might be more to life than what she’s had allocated to her, but is suddenly compelled to go on this epic journey, during which she discovers that she can be whoever she is, and whoever she wants to be. It has undeniably feminist roots, but I think anyone can relate to having to battle against a societal expectation forced upon them, and we do want people to interpret the story in their own way.”
"I’m very conscious of my responsibility as a man to challenge that oppression of women. It’s something that is so deeply ingrained into modern Western society that it manifests in the most subtle and surprising ways, and that necessitates constant attention and constant vigilance."
“I’m very conscious of my responsibility as a man to challenge that oppression of women. It’s something that is so deeply ingrained into modern Western society that it manifests in the most subtle and surprising ways, and that necessitates constant attention and constant vigilance. It also requires a lot of listening, acceptance that you as a man are privileged in ways you might not even realise, and an understanding that just because you don’t get it or see it, it doesn’t mean it isn’t happening. I’m really proud to be involved in creating something that spreads that message.”
Encapsulating the narrative and the adventurism is the artwork that presents the record. Colourful, ensnaring and alluring, the album artwork is not just a brilliant piece of fantastical art itself, but a piece of craft that hints towards the swirling walls of progressive sound and feminist topics it introduces. Like every aspect of this meticulously detailed album, the cover art of Chronicle I: The Truthseeker is a thoroughly intricate labour of love, one that throughly carries the sense of nuance and obtuseness of Mountain Caller and their respective output. As expected, Maxwell was keen to delve further on the subject and it’s origins; “We knew we wanted something lush and visually striking, and wanted it to be a scene f rom the story. The cover depicts the Protagonist about to discover and enter Half - Light City, having just traversed the Twilight Desert.”
“We spent a lot of time searching for the right artist, until El came across the work of Hannah Templer. She writes a graphic novel series called Cosmoknights, does posters, concept artwork and all manner of visual delights. We loved the attention to detail within her work, how the longer you spend looking at one of her pieces the more you’ll notice. It also has a real classic comic book style with tinges of anime, which we loved. Supporting a female and queer artist was another thing we wanted greatly. From day one of working with her we knew we made the right decision. We sent a really detailed brief, and she met that whilst also adding her artistic touches to it brilliantly. I remember sent the initial black and white sketches over for approval and we were like “these are just the SKETCHES?!””
"Supporting a female and queer artist was another thing we wanted greatly. From day one of working with her we knew we made the right decision."
“We also enlisted the help of Tom Le Bon, who directed our video (for 'I Remember Everything'), the gorgeous inside cover photography, as well as some studio shots from Elle Haywood and Kit Reeve, all of whom are also insanely talented. El our bassist worked tirelessly on the design and the layout, and we couldn’t be prouder of the finished product!”
With Chronicle I: The Truthseeker out now and with Mountain Caller channeling flawlessly crafted progressive art that not only offers escapism but combats premeditated prejudices and fallacies, it’s essentially impossible to designate a more worthy band to represent the emerging breed. Not only do the band offer work that’s peerless in their age, but they breathe new life into the stagnate ethos and ideology of the genre they’ve inhabited with ease. Expansive, awe-inspiring in scope and offering work that’s simultaneously fantastical and vitally culturally poignant, this record as is phenomenal as it is crucial.
Chronicle I: The Truthseeker is out now via New Heavy Sounds.