Old Man Doom projects into the astral realms with Mouth of the Architect‘s newest full length.
Post-metal stalwarts Mouth of the Architect are back with an expansive, yet introspective, concept album that explores the self’s journey after death. Inspired by Buddhist eschatology and otherworldly phenomenon, as well as earthbound experiences of human tragedy, Path of Eight tells the story of a soul, disembodied and thrust into infinity, searching for and finding oblivion in the wake of the death of consciousness. Heavy shit to be sure, but what does it sound like? The post-metal tag is often a deal-breaker for listeners, evoking generic sludge riffs mashed up with echoey guitar leads that indulge in an unauthentic brand of emotional catharsis over tens of minutes per song. Sound about right? Wrong. MotA are looking to shake things up with Path of Eight, and they are able to execute this progression with authority.
One of the most notable aspects of this album, in comparison to MotA’s past work and the post-metal genre in general, is the short form song structures. The longest song herein maxes out at 7 minutes, while the majority of the album features songs in the 4-5 minute range on average. This may not sound remarkable, but given that MotA belong to a genre that tends to push the limits of listener attention spans, it is a welcome change. Whilst still occasionally stirring up the repetitious maelstroms that post-metal is known for, the most interesting and rewarding part of Path of Eight is its hook-laden, noise-inflected themes that seem to swell up to triumphant heights and subsequently fade within a single 5 minute song. And with each track boasting its own unique – not same old, same old – thematic structure, Path of Eight possesses what is, in my opinion, one of the highest playback values in the post-metal genre this year.
On another note, the triple vocal attack that Path of Eight brings to bear across all 8 tracks is a strong element to which I find myself consistently drawn. I like to describe vocals on display as honest. Now, that bears a bit of explanation on my part: I say “honest” because all three vocalists are not necessarily the most gifted or strongest of performers; however, their genuinely emotive hooks carry the weight of individuals who are reporting in from the threshold of death’s realm. These are the cries of lost souls in the void, singing out a desperate swan song before falling into oblivion’s clutches. Many of the clean vocal moments specifically recall Toby Driver’s (Kayo Dot) foray into vulnerable and weird territory on Coffins on Io. For example, the Driver-esque vocals on “Stretching Out” are literally stretching out with the song’s lazily drifting riffage, while the distorted death prayer intoned in “Ritual Bell” evokes the ever indistinct disembodiment of a soul escaping the material world.
“Fever Dream” is just that: a feverish ride accompanied by a noisy, delayed lead guitar sidewinding over a groovy, psychedelic chord progression that smolders with intensity until it all explodes into nuclear overdrive. In fact, all the song titles evoke the sonic qualities therein, due in part to the overarching conceptual arc that MotA have carefully crafted. “The Priestess” is commanded into being by sensual female vocals, swaying oracle-like to the solar wind sound of background guitars and synths. “Sever the Soul” is one of the heavier, faster tracks on the album, and rightfully so, as it represents the soul’s final moments of consciousness before being torn apart in the void.
Path of Eight’s commitment to atmosphere is masterful. Like their musical cousins in The Atlas Moth and Kayo Dot, MotA strive to envelope listeners first in the cosmic darkness of the great beyond, then in the light of eternal oblivion – emphasizing setting over scene. Alongside synths, MotA drive home the noisy psychedelia element of their sound here (fuzzy blues-inflicted leads, washy chords, distorted vocals) in an apparent effort to narrativize the gradual, entropic return of all consciousness to chaos. I have found that most every element on display here is narratively linked in some way to the album’s concept, creating an incredibly affecting listen that rewards repeated listening.
I found myself reaching for some really overwrought and expansive descriptions when drafting this review, which is something I try to stay away from. For better or worse, the descriptions herein can only merely suggest the vastness of the strangely lit void which this album spawns. On the surface, MotA have crafted a solid piece of post-metal that manages to keep listeners’ attentions with more concise times whilst covering great distances with uniquely structured songs – which is more than most post-metal bands can claim nowadays. Diving into the songs reveals a beating heart, pulsing out the story-driven narrative in time with the groovy riffs and off-kilter time signatures. Going into producing this album, MotA claimed that they needed a fresh start, a new perspective to keep from doing the same things time and again in a genre that sees little in the way of true progression. I think Path of Eight does exactly that, appealing to the adventurous listener whilst rooting itself in genre convention. As such, it never feels like it’s flown too close to the sun.
For me, it’s a late, but more than welcome, addition to my end of the year list and to my introspective, exploratory playlist.