Label: P.W. Elverum & Sun, Ltd.
As Mount Eerie in 2008, Phil Elverum had a busy year. The Black Wooden Ceiling Opening EP dropped in May with decidedly metal leanings. October saw the release of his acclaimed 25-minute Lost Wisdom collaboration with Julie Doiron and Fred Squire. Only three weeks later Dawn emerged as Elverum’s most personal work, complete with a 144-page hardcover book chronicling his 2002-03 retreat to a remote Norwegian cabin where the songs were written. If you’re into comparisons–we music folk generally are–2009 has been a period of relative dormancy for Mount Eerie.
But just a few deafening seconds into Wind’s Poem, it’s clear that Elverum has been making the most of his downtime. “Wind’s Dark Poem” opens the album with a monolithic exhalation of everything that’s gone into its conception–two years listening to the dark woods behind his Anacortes, WA home, accompanying liner notes explain. The raw power of a hundred tempestuous nights is channeled into a furious river of cacophonous distortion that swirls over bedrock of racing percussion. More than a minute passes before Elverum’s delicate lyricism edges from behind the black metal curtain that he’s fashioned as an introduction. Even then it’s mostly obscured; buried beneath the formidable layer of grinding guitars that steadily devolve into the sound of a windstorm raging.
From here, it’s easy to understand how some may be inclined to label this Elverum’s black metal opus. Contrary to the album’s calamitous commencement and the relentless rumors that have surrounded its pre-release, Wind’s Poem is not a black metal album. It has its moments, certainly. Gargantuan thrusts from the underworld occasionally drown Elverum’s verse (“The Hidden Stone”) while minutes of speeding discordance pass (“The Mouth of Sky”) with gnashing metal teeth and disembodied, fuzzed-out drones. But for each minute of thrash, there is at least two of familiar, lo-fi Mount Eerie smoulder. The real weight of Wind’s Poem lies where the best moments of Elverum’s career always have–in the quiet, introspective breaks between rich instrumental flourishes.
What sets the lyrics of Wind’s Poem apart from those of previous Elverum recordings is a sharp focus on the existential. “And you are like me/ You are nothing but a place/ Where dust is dancing,” he whispers, as the voice of the wind on the aptly titled “Wind Speaks.” Such an affirmation of fleeting existence is one of many throughout Wind’s Poem that serve its most gripping moments; concealed in the tail-ends of lyrically driven tracks, rewarding patience. Elverum finds compelling compliment and contrast in the tenuous relation between life and this elemental force of nature.
Dark themes of mortality and impermanence are made all the more immediate with Elverum’s unique ability to draw his audience so completely into his perspective. The relative calm of the 11-minute “Through the Trees,” follows the turbulent opener in stark contrast, capably meeting this purpose. From a hypnotizing, ambient synth harmony, Elverum creates a massive sonic expanse that effectively separates the listener from his or her locale, gently requesting attention that’s soon spent wandering through the world he’s crafted for Wind’s Poem. In his familiar lexicon, rife with naturalistic analogy and metaphor, Elverum has drawn a vivid portrait of isolation. As the protagonist in this loose collection of stories, he passes between a dream world with wind personified, and a waking state where he’s found in a clearing or on a street, contemplating actuality and his relation to it.
Wind’s Poem sounds more like a Microphones record than anything Elverum has released since 2003, but also stands as the truest manifestation of the “Mount Eerie” name that he’s since taken on. These compositions are enormous in sound and scope while carrying a dark, ominous quality that outlasts its 55-minute runtime. This is essentially a concept album, named quite literally. Elverum sings about the wind, as the wind and with the wind in a captivating execution of his vision. The record ties neatly into a body of work that’s beginning to look like that of a songwriter attempting to turn himself inside out.