Review: Dust Mountain ‘Hymns For Wilderness’

April this year seems long ages ago, and much of Roadburn Festival’s spectacular effort to bring the world a piece of the usual Tilburg magic has faded from memory. Dust Mountain however left a mark on my mind, and I have been toiling through the long months to the eventual release of Hymns For Wilderness eager to return to their vision ‘of a world hidden but not lost’.

Dust Mountain ‘Hymns For Wilderness’

It can be a tricky business drawing on that classic 60s/70s crossroads of acid-folk and heavier psych, yet Dust Mountain have found themselves a sound that feels absolutely itself, no pastiche or occult gimmick. Indeed, any sniff of camp witchiness tends to put me on guard, and yet when Henna Hietamäki sings ‘You are under my spell’ I begin to suspect that this may in fact be the case. Perhaps because – like Pombagira or Rose Kemp – it feels as though the magic is part of the making, and not an aesthetic choice. As with Rose Kemp’s fantastic later works, there may be some who are put off by the unconstrained vocals on Hymns For Wilderness, however, for me, they’re well-balanced in their brightness and dark, not theatrical but powerful.

Perhaps it’s no surprise that this is such an accomplished work – the original impetus for Dust Mountain began in 2016 between the siblings Hietamäki and has since drawn together a group from that rich Finnish scene, members of groups known for their varied and hybrid music-making. Interesting that this is, in some ways, very much a ‘record of place’ calling back to local folk roots and ritual, and yet refers musically to traditions beyond the forests and rivers we see in the video for Holy Equinox for example.

calling back to local folk roots and ritual, and yet refers musically to traditions beyond the forests and rivers…

The songs are sung in English, and the longest (and in some ways heaviest) track Apollo uses the ancient Greek story of the musical contest between Apollo and Pan/Marsyas as its central theme. This should not surprise us however, as the use of this conflict between ‘Apollonian’ and ‘Dionysian’ impulses in Scandinavian folk tradition was noted as far back as 1895 by the great de Selby in his remarkable work Midnight Sun, Noontime Dark: folktales of the North – ‘Apollo is rules, techne, lucidity; Dionysus is intuition, no restraint, reckless’. We can also read into this victory for the ‘civilised’ the overwriting of earlier nature-based belief by Christianity, which may also be the source of the use of church Latin in the climax of Holy Equinox.

After that heavy headwork, it’s a pleasure to kick back into a celebratory finish with Bird Hymns, and this speaks to the quality of the album as a whole. I mentioned earlier the balance of bright and dark, and musically this song uses that push-pull to great effect, while the whole can be seen as part of a larger rhythm. The songs take us from daylight urgency and sexual power, through summer bloom and revolt, to the equinox. Here energies sit in balance, before falling back into eternal struggle, and finally the expression of that tension in nature, where all is reconciled.

In some ways, this has been a year for much heavier music, and on the face of it Dust Mountain are lacking the usual ‘crushing fuzzed-out riffs’ that I’d expect to make an album stand out as a favourite, but hopefully I’ve managed to convey something here of what makes this possibly the best thing I’ve heard in a long while.

Label: Svart Records
Band Links: Facebook | Instagram

Scribed by: Harry Holmes