Saw a Halo – Mouthus

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Saw a Halo opens with the band becloaked, on a misty morning at Stonehenge; a sinister deep gong rings out, and a detuned acoustic guitar, as they intone, “Spend my day racing against the sun…” This is a kind of folk music; the genre tropes are there, but they’ve been shot through with darkness, molded into scary new shapes. If it is folk, it's folk with the emphasis on the ritual human sacrifice side of things (see The Wicker Man), rather than the lightly narcotized communion with the flowers one might expect. The impression that the dark side is at work here is also enforced by the knowledge that this is Mouthus, purveyors of some of the most filthsome noise-skronk this side of the Inferno. Hence the sense of impending doom, as the song builds up its layers of vocals, knowing that despite appearances of solemn calm, it won’t be long before the whole thing erupts in a spew of molten feedback and splintered drumsticks. Sure enough, the following, “Armies Between”, brings the noise, playing a wall of shredded guitar grit off against a shifting industrial drum machine groove to devastating effect. The texture is rich and intricate, as Nate Nelson weaves his drums through the drum machine’s rhythmic splutter to create a hypnotic piece of polyrhythmic metal lacework, while Brian Sullivan’s guitar spits acid bile on top.

Its not until the third song, “The Driftless”, however, that teeth actually begin to fly, a snarling slab of distortion, mewling and roaring as Nelson’s drums tear into it like claws. It’s a helluva uppity animal, as hardcore as anything Mouthus have done before, though the spirit of the misty morning incantation is still at large in the form of a vocal drone held bravely over the slaughter; the high priest, masterfully in control as the earth splits open to reveal the bowels of hell. Extraordinarily, the calm returns, notably in personal favorite “Beaches Sleep Here”, in which haunted chimes swing like pendulums in counterpoint to a subdued rhythmic noise-chug; through the fog crawls a sombre vocal line like a melancholy anaconda.

Saw A Halo is a great album, certainly the greatest of Mouthus’ illustrious career so far. It is wonderful to hear so much variety in their sound, demonstrating a hitherto unheard versatility. Also, the decision to step out from the shelter of the lo-fi umbrella and invest in some quality studio time has really paid off, enabling the band to really show off the subtleties of their sound. If you are looking for a worthy bunch of shamans to lead you through spiritual purgation and out into the light again, look no further.