When I first heard the Heartless Bastards a few years back, I thought, “there’s someone who listened to a *lot* of Zeppelin when they were young.” That’s not a unique thought, by any means. It will get further reinforcement on their latest release, The Mountain. In addition to the guitar-fueled wall of sound, the lyrics in the title track include Mordor-esque lines like “spilt blood on this place, it echoes true all through the days”. And a number of tracks have a John Bonham-like, cymbal-bashing drum cadence. Digging a little deeper, though, and I think they’re kind of an anti-Zeppelin. Whereas Plant, Page, Bonham and Jones led a manic drive to create an irresistible force, this Erika Wennerstrom-led trio produces a heavy drum beat, guitar fuzzed immovable object. Just……won’t……surrender.
The title track and first song segues into Could Be So Happy, an acoustic little ditty that sets up the album as much more than just a wall of rock god sound. From there, the disc takes a turn back to terra firma with a garage band sounding Early In The Morning. A trio of similar songs follow that up. At that point, though, Wennerstrom’s recent move to Austin takes a turn influencing the sound and movement of the album.
First up is Wide Awake, a somewhat mystical tune featuring a mandolin arrangement that would be at home on any of Abigail Washburn’s sojourns into Chinese-influenced Americana. Following that is So Quiet, exposing some of Wennerstrom’s roots in Cincinnati, just across the river from the rolling hills of Kentucky. Next up is Had To Go, a full-on immersion in Appalachia with banjo and acoustic guitar leading the way. Finally, the album finishes with a couple of songs providing the other side of the rock bookends.
Producer Mike McCarthy (Spoon) does a brilliant job of adding little bits of ear candy, like stray feedback and final chord reverb, that keep the thrum of The Mountain from becoming oppressive and instead give it an edge that signal a band still on the rise. It’s a perfect counterpoint to some of the recent releases from bands content to overproduce instead of innovate.
Lastly, a note not just on why you should listen to the album, but how. I love my iPod as much as the next guy. But you have to give The Mountain at least one turn on a system where the volume control has the heft of cast metal and the subwoofer qualifies as a piece of furniture. Play it loud, and you’ll thank me later.
About the author: I've actually driven from Tehatchapee to Tonopah. And I've seen Dallas from a DC-9 at night.