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A Silver Mt. Zion - Born Into Trouble As The Sparks Fly Upwards CD (album) cover


A Silver Mt. Zion


Post Rock/Math rock

3.57 | 70 ratings

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4 stars Thee Silver Mt Zion Memorial Orchestra/Tra la la Band Mountain Reveries Godspeed To My Dead Dog, or whatever the heck they are called now, are probably one of the top two or three post-rock bands still in the game these days. Like the seed that spawned them (Godspeed You! Black Emperor), the band releases their stuff on Constellation Records in those goofy but presumably environment-friendly cardboard cases that get all bent up in my CD rack. They also include the same types of abstract images and occasional ramblings cum manifestos, but I’ve long since decided that these are just a semi-intentional diversion for listeners to keep them from getting too close to the members of the band themselves. At least that’s what I tell myself – half that stuff makes no sense in the context of the actual music.

These musicians, or at least cult leader (er., guitarist) Efrim Menuck have seemed to have internalized one of the guiding principles of expressionist art in general, which is that if a concept is made abstract and ill-defined enough, people will tend to draw their own conclusions as to what the heck it’s all about. One other principle seems to have maybe escaped them, which is that given a scenario but very little information, ten different people are likely to come to ten or twelve wildly different conclusions. The point is, who really know what this music is supposed to be about? Possibly the band members themselves, but largely they aren’t telling. So I’m free to just make stuff up – who’s going to stop me?

Anyway, this is the second offering from the band (that part I’m not making up), released on the heels of Godspeed’s ‘Lift Your Skinny Fists…’, so it was kind of lost in the thousand-watt spotlight that album garnered. Too bad, because this is actually a considerably more interesting recording than Mt. Zion’s first album, which was stylistically somewhat simpler than the Godspeed paradigm, but was also slash-your- wrists depressing. This album is depressing too (frankly, the vast majority of stuff coming from Constellation Records is either depressing or negative or angry or some combination of the three), but every once and a while there is just the slightest turn of a bow from one of the cellists, and a very faint glimmer of light and hope escapes from the drudgery and into the room. It’s a remarkable talent these guys have for ‘speaking’ through their music, and primarily through their stringed instruments.

The other thing about Mt. Zion music is that it has an inescapable feminine touch. I cannot explain what I mean by that, but it’s there. Just thought that was worth pointing out.

The opening track is "Brothers! Sisters! Small Boats of Fire are Falling from the Sky!", a rather disjointed composition that eventually sorts itself out between the weird percussion and reverberating guitar and builds into one of those patented Mile End crescendos that made these guys’ parent band so hugely successful. The difference here is this one will make you cry. It’s just so damn mournful. It’s like a call to arms for every angst-ridden young person within hearing radius to start swallowing pills or preparing to jump in front of a train. Fortunately it’s only music, but be sure and have any sharp objects stashed away safely if you play this on a dark night when you are alone.

“This Gentle Hearts Like Shot Bird's Fallen” follows, and it sounds pretty much like the title describes. It’s also full of mournful strings, as well as the odd animal-inspired sound effects that typify a Mt. Zion album. And like a lot of their songs, it’s a lot shorter than the stuff Godspeed typically put out. This one isn’t quite as depressing as the first track, mostly just the guitar is a downer here, but the cellos rise slightly above and offer a glimmering sense of human interaction in an otherwise pretty stark track. I strongly suspect these guys spend too many long winters deprived of sunlight way up there in Canada. It’s really not good for your mental health, you know.

Some little kid opens “Built Then Burnt (Hurrah! Hurrah!)” with a diatribe about monsters roaming the hills and human carnage and so forth – could be a scary fireside story or a sociopathic manifesto, hard to say. The strings and guitar are very similar to the previous track, but here again the strings are just a bit this side of gloomy, and the listener is left wondering where this album is actually heading.

Menuck finally pipes in with his Roger Waters meets Warren Zevon trembling vocals on “Take These Hands And Throw Them In The River”, amid some pretty stormy and angry violin work. Unlike some Mt. Zion fans, I really don’t care for his singing and wish he’d leave that to someone else, but I must admit they do set an appropriately creepy tone.

“Could've Moved Mountains” is the longest track on the album at around eleven minutes. These are some of the same string musicians as on the Godspeed albums, so it’s not surprising the sound is somewhat similar, especially since Menuck is also playing guitar in the same slow, brooding manner he did on ‘Yanqui U.X.O.’. He also mumbles something incoherent from time to time, giving this a bit of a Pink Floyd circa late- seventies feel. There’s something of a buildup here, but no explosion, which is okay I guess but a bit unnerving.

The highlight of the album comes with “Tho’ You Are Gone I Still Often Walk With You”, a piano-heavy track that sort of sounds like some of the soundtracks to the various Halloween slasher films of the seventies and eighties. The piano is a bit repetitive without the distinctive variations that occur on most other tracks, and the overall feeling is one of resigned fatigue. Beautiful but sad.

On “C'mon Comeon (Loose an Endless Longing)” the mood improves measurably, with an almost happy crescendo midway through and a slow, somewhat peaceful lull following. This I suppose is where the album was headed all along, to a hesitantly optimistic finale.

Which comes in the form of “The Triumph of our Tired Eyes”, which winds this whole experience to a close with more of Menuck’s Final Cut-like vocals and accompanying stuttering guitar work. The string passage midway through is one of the most beautiful passages on any Mt. Zion album I have ever heard, without hardly any note of depression. The little kid closes the song and the album with a quick little children’s rhyme ditty, and we’re out.

I keep buying Mt. Zion’s albums and listening to them because they keep changing just enough to keep me interested. It’s hard to say if that’s because the varying members of the collective are growing themselves, or if the lineup changes are causing the variations. Or, since cynicism is certainly an acceptable mood when listening to any of the bands in the Mile End clique, maybe it’s just a very, very good marketing ploy. But I doubt it.

This one is better than the last, and better than the one that will follow. It’s not Godspeed, but at least these guys are still putting out music and their forbearers aren’t, so four stars for that.


ClemofNazareth | 4/5 |


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