What happens when you take members of psychedelic, psychotic black metal and raging grindcore bands and throw in a smattering of philosophical, Shakespearian soliloquys? Apart from a particularly refined hangover, you’ll end up with the atmospheric yet vitriolic sound of Mountains Crave, a black metal force emerging from Leeds, UK that have quickly set about crafting an impressive reputation on the basis of their searing debut EP [reviewed here] and a formidable live performance. Combining the sorrowful soundscapes of Cascadian black metal with a more traditionally Scandinavian brand of ferocity, the band go beyond the typical tropes of either genre to create a sound that demands attention in an era replete with uninspired and uninspiring black metal. Unholy Noise got in touch with Mountains Crave mainman Mike Midgely (also known by his alias of Mr. William Wight-Barrow in his ulterior pastime as a member of A Forest of Stars), to talk Argentinian metaphysical fiction, playing in Cumbrian forests, and being a miserable sod.
Hello Mike and thanks for the interview! To get started can you give us a brief introduction to Mountains Crave?
Mike [Midgley, guitar]: Firstly, thanks for having us. Mountains Crave is an atmospheric black metal band from Leeds, UK. We are mainly made up of musicians from a number of extreme metal bands with a common goal of creating heartfelt black metal that is both abrasive and inward-looking. We released our first EP in December, and are now preparing for our first full-length.
As a band made from members of Leeds’ eclectic extreme metal community, Mountains Crave have a broad variety of influences and musical styles within the group. Can you describe how this affects and invigorates your music and performance?
Mike: From the get-go we have all seemed to share the same goal with the creative direction of our music, despite the contrasting styles of the bands we are also involved with. No doubt our diverse experience has helped speed up the performative aspects of the band, particularly in its early formation, but as far as from a creative standpoint we have all eerily been pulling in the same direction straight away.
Your debut EP blends characteristics of traditional and more contemporary atmospheric black metal – is this a sound you intentionally aimed for? What were you aiming to express musically when you were writing the EP?
Mike: Very much so. I really enjoy the uncompromising, raw nature of the first/second wave, but at the same time I’ve yearned for the atmospheric density of later BM, and with it the shift away from a lot of the aesthetic concerns that to me are outdated. I’ve always enjoyed sorrowful music irrespective of genre, and aimed to integrate these types of melodies and textures within a black metal framework. I’m a miserable sod to be honest. I do think though, that a great euphoria can be found in the most depressive music that can transcend that state and become uplifting. That might just be my over-exposure to it though…
Prior to this, I had become quite disillusioned with writing music for several years, still through reasons unbeknown to me now. A brief time dealing with a serious health issue really gave me some perspective; I guess I needed to reconfigure what I enjoyed in life, horrible music! I’ve been very lucky to have found other musicians who really ‘get’ it, as vague as that statement is.
All of the EP was written prior to the formation of the band in an ongoing process over a year or so. I spent a long time working out what I wanted to achieve with this project in terms of style and feel. This resulted in a large amount of material being written, some of which was hastily discarded, some of which is now being worked on for our next release.
The lyrical content of the album also contrasts to more conventional atmospheric black metal themes. Although there are discussions of the natural world/loss/isolation etc, there are also more complex themes related to mythology and philosophy. Can you give us some insight into your lyrical concepts and inspiration? Is there a deeper personal slant with these lyrics than with the more traditional tropes of the genre?
Danny [Eaton, lyrics and vocals]: I think what you’re referring to is most prevalent on ‘City of the Immortals’ which is heavily influenced by the Argentinean writer/philosopher Jorge Luis Borges. His story ‘The Immortal’ which is about a man who goes in search of this fabled city built by the gods, but finds it is actually this haphazard labyrinth that almost drives him mad, has been a favourite of mine for some time and I thought it fit pretty well with the music. I’m inspired by all kinds of literature, and if you know your Shakespeare you’ll recognise the reference to ‘spirits from the vasty deep’. What’s more, the new material we’ve been writing has been heavily influenced by Aldous Huxley’s writings on the visionary experience. In terms of a deeper personal slant, I’d say at the risk of sounding pretentious that I’ve undergone something of a spiritual awakening of late, and my lyrics are a kind of celebration of that. For me, that’s infinitely preferable to just playing out the same tropes ad nauseam.
In addition to the black metal elements to your sound, Mountains Crave also incorporate post-metal and folk into the mix. Was this approach a result of natural experimentation, or a planned route to forming your own sound?
Mike: As far as our music, we’re very much interested in experimenting through additional textures and instrumentation but at the same time we have a core focus that we don’t try to deviate from in terms of ‘our’ sound. That’s the aim anyway. The post and folkish elements were always part of this makeup. Whether we are successful at this is of course debatable, but we play what we enjoy.
Are we correct in thinking you were the sole composer for the EP? With Mountains Crave now operating as a full band, how do you see the band’s sound and identity evolving?
Mike: The guitars and structures were all mainly developed prior to our formation as a full band, and then shaped as we solidified our lineup. It’s very exciting to see how our sound will develop now we are a complete band. Our most recent addition on guitar, Paul, is already a part of the writing process, and has allowed us to really expand our sound. The writing process has largely remained the same so far; key ideas will be formed at the guitar stage and then jammed as a group, which allows the whole band to shape the songs.
Katie Stone of A Forest of Stars (a band you are also involved in) provided guest violins for the EP, bringing a distinctive element into Mountains Crave’s sound. In your view, what does the inclusion of strings and folk influences add to your sound, and is this guest relationship something you aim to continue with future releases?
Mike: We all love the violin. It’s a deeply emotive and expressive instrument and I think it will continue to carry a presence within our sound. Katie is a great violinist, and we’d love to work with her again. Similarly, I’ve always enjoyed the inclusion of acoustic sections in extreme music. We tend to write quite grandiose structures which climb and drop, even more so with our newer material, so this is a definite feature.
Mountains Crave have been quick to mark their presence on the UK underground touring circuit, with impending support slots for France’s The Great Old Ones surely being a quick career highlight. How are you feeling about the band’s growth and trajectory, and how has the reception been so far?
Mike: Personally, I’m incredibly happy with any attention we receive. Our only aim is to write and perform black metal that can transport you as a listener or performer, wherever that may be. Playing with like-minded bands and on lineups that share similar goals helps to achieve this even more so.
The EP has definitely put Mountains Crave on the radar for the release of your full length debut – how is this process currently going, and what are the band’s plans for the future?
Mike: Much of the music is written, some quite a long time ago. We are aiming to record the album at the back end of the year. We are in the wonderful position of experimenting with the structures and layers at the moment, I find this creatively very exciting. Seeing riffs and melodies develop into songs can be exhilarating. During this process we have cut back on live shows, but we are making a few appearances in the near future including Warhorns Festival in September and the Blackwood Gathering in October. That should be a very special weekend, playing in the middle of a forest in Cumbria.
Thanks for your time and answering our questions! Do you have any final comments?
Mike: Thanks for your time. Much appreciated!