Tuesday 22 March 2022

King Mountain - Tempest at the Gate (2022)

Country: Greece
Style: Stoner/Hard Rock
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 24 Mar 2022
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook

I've been stumbling upon all sorts of quality rock and metal coming out of Greece lately, even if it doesn't seem to be the product of any single coherent scene. Naxatras and Halocraft are only the latest to seriously impress me, with Acid Death and Soundtruck getting 8/10s from me in the past, along with Firewind, who I already knew about, of course. And so, always greedy for more, here's another Greek album, courtesy of another project of Stavros Papadopoulos, who I've encountered before in Universal Hippies.

If I'm counting properly, this is a fourth album for King Mountain with vocals and a fifth overall, as 2020's Beleaguered was entirely instrumental. Papadopoulos provides the guitar and vocals, with Chris Lagios, the drummer in Universal Hippies, behind the kit and John Christopoulos on bass. It's well within possibility that he's played with Papadopolous before in one of his myriad bands, but I couldn't tell you which. I just assume that the man is a scene all on his own.

Like Universal Hippies, King Mountain play stoner rock, as is patently obvious from the amount of fuzz on the guitar. However, this is a vocal album and Papadopoulos's voice underlines just much of Clutch there is in this band's sound. He delivers clean vocals that are deep, confident and powerful without overtly trying to be. Like Clutch, King Mountain builds its songs out of slow, solid riffs that are effortlessly heavy without ever really pushing towards doom. If it crosses boundaries, it's into grunge and southern rock, which I'd never seen as a sliding scale before. There are also hints at an influence in NWOBHM, both in riffs and solos.

For a while, it's pure stoner rock. Soul Sacrifice is a strong opener, a patient stormer of a track. The title track continues that, overloading the fuzz on its intro to worship the distortion, and it's only late in Burning Walls that it leaps into a gallop for some clear Iron Maiden guitarwork. That's neat energy to add into the sound of a band that tend to be heavy without being urgent. The same goes for the psychedelic opening to Break Away and for the way that it then grows into something not a million miles away from southern rock. There's grunge in songs like King of the Mountain and lots of blues too, which is crucial bedrock for King Mountain.

It's notable that the less expected sounds the band trawls in tend to be in the middle of the album. A few of these songs sound like Eddie Vedder singing for Clutch but thinking he's in Lynyrd Skynyrd and I'm not going to argue with that, especially when the guitar plays along. That Break Away solo is a real peach, even if there aren't any other guitars to interweave with. The resulting sound ends up as much akin to Black Country Communion as Clutch, albeit with a very different vocal style.

However, the openers are firmly in Clutch territory and so are the closers, which tend to turn out to be my favourites here. If Soul Sacrifice isn't my pick for the album's standout track, then Under the Blackened Sky is. This is the penultimate song on offer, with the similarly excellent Naked Souls on duty to close out the album, and I adore the guitarwork, which alternates between delicate almost spaghetti western soundtrack picking and a neatly heavy riff, not to forget another excellent solo. The drums are fascinating too, even if they're heavied up to the point of dissonance.

So, how many bands is Stavros Papadopoulos actually in nowadays and which one of them will issue an album next week? Inquiring minds want to know.

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