Mt. Wolf have taken the circuitous path to indie success. They exploded out of the gate in 2012 with their debut EP, Life Size Ghost. But instead of capitalizing on the hype by immediately releasing a full-length album, they opted to take the slow, gradual path. A succession of singles and remixes and three other EPs would follow within a four-year period, giving their growing fan base enough to chew on but not satiating their ravenous appetites. At long last, the time has arrived, and Mt. Wolf has presented the gift for which thousands of people have been waiting.
Aetherlight is more than anything that could have been envisioned by the London-based trio. Their EPs – in addition to Life Size Ghost include Hex, Red, and Hypolight – were hypnotic affairs. Aetherlight, though, transcends them all. Its blend of cinematic indie, electronic, and post-rock is unlike anything heard since Sigur Rós‘ Kveikur. It is ethereal yet euphoric, spellbinding and breathtaking, bold yet beautiful. If outer space was our place of worship, Mt. Wolf would be its choir.
Depicting Mt. Wolf’s cosmic splendor is “Bohemia”. It is a stunning, post-rock hymn that would fill the grandest cathedrals and amphitheaters. The harmonies are lush and radiant while the instrumentation, particularly the swirling strings and synths, is entrancing. Likewise, “Hex” is a dazzling, majestic number. It starts solemnly, evoking the tempered grace of Mogwai before transforming into a choral explosion. These two songs are the hurtling journey through the cosmos, and three songs provide the destinations.
The first is the afterlife, and it is called “Heavenbound”. “May the Gods gather around to the thunderous sound of the old gallows, Heavenbound”, sings frontman Sebastian Fox, whose voice is right out of the skies above. Despite the solemn lyrics, this majestic track will have listeners standing tall with their arms spread wide to experience every note. If this is heaven, we never want to leave.
Depart, though, we must to explore places afar, such as “Sotaria”. The song reveals the creativity of Mt. Wolf. It is more than just a song, but a dramatic score that could open Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar sequel or on a BBC documentary about space. And like all great scores, there are multiple moments where you are gasping for a breath. Stunning is “Sotaria”, which is a place where dreams come true. While in nearby “Hamburg”, contemplation governs. More dream-folk than post-rock, Mt. Wolf take us through the streets and alleys of a once grand city that is now crumbling. The dreamers, however, remain. Hope and optimism still reign, bringing out the city’s inner beauty – displayed by the intimate production and the crystalline guitars – into the foreground.
There are moments of reprieve in the album, albeit momentarily. “Kenobi” is short instrumental that acts like an intermission, and it leads into “Dorji”. A guitar-driven, post-rock number, “Dorji” is cool and intimate at first. But as it progresses, it builds into a dynamic affair, as the acoustic and shoegaze guitars and pulsating rhythms beats and rhythms converge into a seismic finish. In five minutes, Mt. Wolf take us from a heavenly place to a dystopian world.
Furthering this sense of entrapment is the urgent and brilliant “The Electric”, the album’s penultimate track. Running at six-and-a-half minutes, the song is a gripping epic filled with memorable songwriting. It is the end of the journey, but questions abound. We are no longer “Heavenbound”, but in a dark, painful place created by our darkest demons. Fox’s searing vocals exclaim:
“I am the Wicker Man.
I scorch the skies under which I stand.
My heart is black, burned by the sins in my stack.
Is it too late for me?”
Compelling are those lines and the final question. Compelling is also one way to describe Mt. Wolf’s long-awaited debut album. For nearly an hour, Sebastian Fox, Stevie Red McMinn, and Al Mitchell achieve something that only the great bands can do – steal our imaginations and our breaths and take over our dreams for an hour. Aetherlight is transcendent in its scope, sound, ambition, and beauty. It soars well above anything created this year. It is, therefore, not just one of the most compelling albums of the year, but one of the very best. Aetherlight is an achievement of the highest order.
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