Phil Elvrum, one of today’s more abstract musicians and creative thinkers, has promised his listeners a new Mount Eerie album, but not just any Mount Eerie album. Elvrum is an experimental musician and likes to play around with avant-garde lite, but Wind’s Poem is said to be his “black metal” album. And although the focus is on “mortality and erosion” and the tone is darker, Wind’s Poem can more accurately be described as “pop black metal.”
Elvrum made his name in the minimalist-folk realm, gaining a presence under his earlier band the Microphones. The Microphones took soaring acoustic journeys and heart-wrenchingly moving choruses in their work, many of which were ambiguous-sounding nature ballads. Elvrum’s lyrics in the Microphones were gentle and considerate of the Earth’s elements. Many of the Microphone’s songs gloss over weather elements, what grows in the ground, and what happens in the sky (“The Storm,” “I Want the Wind to Blow,” “Moon Moon,” “My Roots are Strong and Deep”). When Elvrum made the transition from the Microphones to Mount Eerie, little changed, except for that his songs became less sprawling, less epic, but a teensy bit more experimental.
Black metal is, of course, a subgenre of heavy metal. There are a lot of anti-Christian underpinnings in its suit of armor, and its sound is marked by two elements: heavily distorted guitar and long, slow growling vocals (Dark Throne and Burzun are two famous examples). Black metal’s production is lo-fi, the vocals low, but shrill. Mount Eerie seems to have gotten the first element down pat, kicking off Wind’s Poem with “Wind’s Dark Poem.” The song sounds as if Elvrum’s intent is to prove that he really meant it when he said he was going to tackle black metal, as “Wind’s Dark Poem” charges forward with layers of distorted guitar and feverish, angry cymbals. But Elvrum’s vocals aren’t distorted, shrieking, gritty or unrelenting. His vocals remain the same throughout the entire record, muttering as he always does, his pitch rarely changing.
Wind’s Poem shifts between distortion, so-quiet-you-can-barely-hear-it vocals, and gentle taps on an acoustic guitar. Standout tracks include “Between Two Mysteries,” which is so minimalist in its approach it’s barely audible, but the harmonies are there. If you lean close enough to hear them, they are rewarding to witness and rather reminiscent of Elvrum’s work with the Microphones.
But in a lot of ways, Wind’s Poem isn’t unlike its Mount Eerie predecessors. Elvrum’s slow, dry vocals and oddly pitched harmonies are still his trademark and the epitome of Mount Eerie’s place in the experimentalist folk community. The rest of Wind’s Poem plays out slow, shimmering, and really just classic Phil Elvrum, even if the album’s tone is darker, well produced and generally well executed. But once an experimentalist folk musician, always an experimentalist folk musician, and kudos to Elvrum for experimenting even further outside of the realm.