Formed initially as a side project for three members of the highly regarded Godspeed You! Black Emperor, A Silver Mt. Zion has in recent years become a musical entity of its own, taking the classical and instrumental influences of GY!BE and exploring the brave addition of vocals, and what could be considered a more approachable sound.
The album opens with a series of twelve tracks, each around five seconds short, causing the album to start on track thirteen. Whether this is to tie in with the albums title, or just to annoy iPod owners as suggested in a recent interview Efrim Menuch did with DrownedInSound, the effect immediately demands your attention. They aren’t messing about here.
This, the band’s fifth release showcases a much more confident sound, notably from Efrim who in the past has admitted himself that he finds the role of singer with the group “foolish” and “uncomfortable”. But, from the opening haunting chants of ‘1,000,000 Died to Make This Sound’ there is a certain power from Menuch’s admittedly odd and frail voice that immediately interests you. He certainly isn’t a singer, and if you tend to expect your music to come with clean and clear cut vocals then this certainly will not be for you. But, if you’ve got an open attitude to that kind of passion over power voice, Menuch will be guaranteed to blow you away.
It’s most interesting to note the importance vocals have within the grand scheme of the album. For all its haunting melody, the violins and other traditional instruments do seem to take a back seat in this album, and could really put out fans of Mt Zion’s older sound which was much more akin to the likes of GY!BE and Explosions in the Sky.
Despite only having four full length tracks, the effort clocks in at just over fifty minutes, which is quite a lot of time for only four tracks to cover. Despite the ebb and flow of the album which tends to sway over you as you are listening (this is certainly an album best listened to in the dark with a good pair of headphones) there is a sense of repetition throughout most of the songs. For the most part, this works in the albums favour – the songs manage to bury themselves in your end, and when listening, the use of repeated passages builds up a fantastic atmosphere which concludes in a climatic outburst of music.
I’ve commented before on the state of the label ‘post-rock’. Those that can’t get into it will level criticism at it’s tendency to force a point and to drag on a bit. Some just cannot stand the air of pomposity that certainly surrounds bands such as Mt Zion. This is serious music, created by a group of musicians who are deadly serious about what they do. However, I feel this album is a genuine highlight in recent releases. Not only is it enjoyable to listen to straight away, but it is memorable as well, and as much as I like similar bands such as the previously mentioned Explosions in the Sky, I do feel I have to invest a lot of time and effort before I even find myself really enjoying anything fully, let alone keeping it in mind. A Silver Mt. Zion has created an album here that is clearly trying to throw off the shackles of the ‘post-rock’ tag and become something else. This is certainly worth purchasing, and is an encouraging effort from musicians who, some might say, have already created some of the finest music to ever be put to record.