Before this year, I had not even been aware of Giant of the Mountain. Even leading up to their show with Krigsgrav in Portland, Maine, I hadn’t taken much time to explore their discography. The samples I had heard seemed almost overly complicated, disorganized, and I found myself struggling to take to their progressive death metal sludge (insert additional adjective/subgenre here) fusion of sounds. And yes, their sound is that unique. But when I saw them play back in April, I began to understand what they were about. The live setting absolutely let their sound sore. Naturally, anticipation was high for The Empty Quarter and overall it delivered in a creative, yet cohesive, manner.
The trio out of Dallas has been steadily gaining more attention — and rightfully so. This is especially true on the east coast, resulting from the aforementioned recent tour. I will say that because of the complicated nature of their sound, it may not quickly grab your attention. There is a lot going on within their sound; they cover a lot ground in short periods of time. The Empty Quarter is a further example of this structural mindset. The four tracks barely cover twenty minutes, but Giant of the Mountain cram more into this modest about of time than we would think possible. It comes together fluidly, making it an entertainingly upbeat, yet aggressive listen that you want to spin multiple times.
They waste no time showcasing their progressiveness by opening with “Crawl”. The droning introduction seems to take things in one direction, but without warning technical leads and a furious cadence completely changes the scene. Time changes become frequent, refusing to settle on any particular path. Paralleled guttural lyrical sections are met with blast beats and tremolo picking, but are interjected by clean vocals and melodic leads. And the second half of the track almost becomes a thrash-influenced traditional heavy metal track though diverse guitar solos supplemented with more consistent riffage. It is a sound that quite literally covers the extreme metal spectrum over its almost nine minute run time. It becomes a sludge metal/technical death metal hybrid. But what the hell? It’s a big sound, full of energy, and all these elements seem to work together harmoniously.
“A Dream So Deep” and “Instinct” continue this trend of exploration. And it continues to work well. Yet within their shorter run times, the songs feel a bit more structured, a bit more straightforward. The impressive technicality is still there, make no mistake. But the shorter durations make each track a little less daunting to get through. Even though some of the styles showcased here are more burdening — looking at the incredibly dreary opening minutes of “Instinct” — these tracks seem less chaotic. The album then closes with “Into Dust”, which is a two minute instrumental and probably the most consistent two minutes on The Empty Quarter. The makeup of this album is rather curious in that sense… we seem to start at one (rather high) level of progressiveness or complexity and then slowly work our day downward from there. Still not entirely sure about how much I’m into that, but I’ve listened to this thing four times in a row now so I’m obviously not complaining much.
The one thing that I think could take The Empty Quarter even higher would be the production. It sounds decent, all the intricacies of the instrumentals and vocals are audible, but it feels a bit thin. It may be a result of my first real experience with Giant of the Mountain being in a live setting and a desire to replicate how massive and enveloping their sound was then. But here, it has the energy, but not quite the desired weight. And despite being a trio, there are many layers to this sound and when presented properly it truly can steal every once of your attention. It just seems like a bit of that is lacking.
Regardless, at only 21 minutes, The Empty Quarter is absolutely worth checking out. With this release, Giant of the Mountain offers one of the more interesting fusions of sound you will undoubtedly hear all year. But more importantly, they bring everything together in a way that makes the energy and the chaos feel organized. And that, in turn, is what make this album so enjoyable; it’s interesting because of its complicated personality, but easy to listen to because of its efficient construction. Do yourself a favor and take the slim twenty minutes to get lost in this thing. You’ll be glad you did.
“Ein Bier… bitte.”