A spitfire guitar riff catapults its angst-ridden scowl at us in the first couple of bars that “The Great Unknown” unleashes, emphasized by an angry, unclouded vocal from The Cold Stares’ Chris Tapp that dares us to enter the vortex of hard southern rock that is the band’s latest LP Mountain. Mountain lives up to its name and doesn’t waste any time piling on the mammoth riffage without any inhibition. As we descend into the jointly melodic and visceral “Friend of Mine,” the volatile energy starts to calm down a bit and The Cold Stares settle into their groove. It takes a second for a few of these songs to really find their soul, but when they do, you end up with emotionally-charged, deeply personal confessionals like “Under His Command” and even the seemingly more pop-faceted “Stickemup.”
“Stickemup” really got to me with its decadent, modulating tempo and pace, which goes from zero to sixty faster than most sports cars. Chris Tapp is an emotional wreck in this song, or at least that’s what he portrays from behind the mic – Brian Mullins keeps up with an erratic swing beat excellently, and together the two literally throw down one of the most fascinatingly fresh harmonies on the album. In both this song and “Gone Not Dead,” it sounds like the pair is literally competing for our attention, showing us what sort of stylish vibrato they can individually add to these harshly appointed ribbons of melody. The raw production quality might be the sweetest element of the record – there’s nothing here that feels disingenuous or artificial in the least.
“Wade In The Darkness” would be much harder to approach were we not previously exposed to the gut-punch that comes with “Gone Not Dead,” but neither can stand up to the British blues-style riffing that can be found on “Child of God.” It’s followed by the massively successful “Sleeping With Lions,” which many fans will recognize from the TNT series Animal Kingdom, but I actually think the former captures the style of The Cold Stares slightly better than the latter does. “Sleeping With Lions” is everything that the band is capable of doing in terms of creating a straight up pop/rock song, but “Child of God” sounds and feels like Chris Tapp the musician being Chris Tapp the man when the only other person around is his likeminded bandmate Brian Mullins.
Continuing Mountain’s progression into elegy is “The River,” and the more up-tempo “Cold Black Water,” which might sway with a lot more swagger than its preceding track does but isn’t any less steeped in bluesy melancholy by any stretch of your imagination. The last five songs on the record – “The Plan,” “Way Gets Dark,” “Two Keys and a Good Book,” “Killing Machine” and the title track sort of blend together like a medley that should have never been broken up to begin with (my sole complaint with the album). Mashed together they become a tour de force that spans the ambitious width of The Cold Stares’ creative skillset, but individually I don’t think they remain quite as rousing. Mountain, from where I sit, isn’t a record for the occasional rock music fan. It’s an intellectually stimulating trip into the perceptions of its composers, designed for and by music aficionados of a rather discriminating persuasion. In short, it’s a solid addition to their growing discography of original, swanky blues rock.