Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Album Review: Mountain of Wizard - "Casting Rhythms and Disturbances"

New Orleans’ own Mountain of Wizard is an exercise in rock revival with metal embellishments.  The instrumental band is solely focused on bringing listeners great and memorable riffs, which should not be read simply as ‘crushing’ or ‘big’ or ‘shredding’ or all the other over-used qualifiers that get put in front of the word riff.  Mountain of Wizard is concerned with great riffs, riffs that work, riffs that carry a melody and create rhythm, riffs that are comfortable but novel and entertain the listener both now and hours later when they’re humming the same riffs at work.  This is the character of their new release “Casting Rhythms and Disturbances.”

Moutain of Wizard combines many of the rock genre’s great signatures into a delicious stew of overdriven guitar goodness.  There’s a fair amount of Cream and Clutch in these winding melodies, with sprinklings of Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and AC/DC, plus a generous helping of Motörhead.  The whole thing is tied together by just enough New Orleans blues sensibility to make it distinguished from its predecessors.  It’s a combination of influences that has worked for Mountain of Wizard but also for many of their contemporaries like Devil to Pay, Crowned by Fire, The Sword and even this year’s Midnight Ghost Train record.

What stands out about this record in particular is that it’s, well, really fun.  If that sounds overly simplistic, there’s no explanation other than that’s how the record sounds.  “Steve the Grouper” is a three-minute bite that bursts with that particular flavor of rock that automatically makes toes tap and smiles break out.  It could be about a deranged fan or bar sleaze or, you know, a fish, but that hardly matters.  What’s important is that the song is a churning and sludgy but ebullient rock anthem.

The simple and easy enjoyment of the album belies the subtle theories that make up the record.  Rock and metal musicians often invoke Thin Lizzy when talking about utilizing twin guitar, but there have been hundreds of other bands who have forwarded that musical theory.  Mountain of Wizard uses their dual axe-men to both emphasize a point and create some divergence.  For “Circling the Walls,” the two are nearly in lock-step, reinforcing the concrete riff that burns and toils through the piece, but the harmony of “Runeshadow’s” second half shows some depth and a little space between the lines to create a different feeling together.

Most instrumental albums are inextricably linked to a feeling of meticulous calculation, a sense that in trying to tell stories without vocal narration, each note must be singled out and accented for its own value.  This isn’t a failing of the style, just an accompanying fact.  By contrast, Mountain of Wizard’s record feels much looser, as though the details aren’t as important and the music itself just simply has to be an expression of the friends playing it.  Throw a dart at the board and you’ll encounter the same thing – even all the way at the bottom “Dead Bandana” feels like some like-minded musicians sitting in a hall feeling out a rhythm.  Don’t misunderstand; while it remains certain that “Casting Rhythms and Disturbances” was the product of thorough planning (for how could such enjoyable music not be,) the feeling of the music remains relaxed and care-free.  It’s a refreshing change from the usual instrumental hallmark of antiseptic guitar tones and long, winding interludes.

Perhaps the only flaw in the armor of “Casting Rhythms and Disturbances” is that by remaining so concerned with enunciating the greatness of a particular style, Mountain of Wizard has pigeonholed themselves into that style.  The twelve compositions of the record are all well-executed and are even styled ever so differently, but they also do come from the same essential mold.  Where John 5 was able to create different moods and stories in his excellent “Careful With That Axe,” Mountain of Wizard never really deviates from the gameplan, throwing high-octane fuel into the fire again and again.  Some variance of color or tempo might have made “Casting Rhythms” a more well-rounded experience.

Still, don’t let that distract you from the main thrust here.  This album, in simple terms, is great.  It’s exuberant and powerful and celebratory just for being what it is.  Mountain of Wizard have accomplished a great feat with this album, and it is well worth your time.

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