It’s said that what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger. Like a sublime three-headed phoenix rising from the ashes, Mt. Wolf have responded to 2014’s hiatus and come back more united, wiser and better, both on stage and now on record with their debut album to be released later this year.
The trio of singer-producer Sebastian “Bassi” Fox, guitarist Stevie McMinn and drummer Al Mitchell last year made their US debut, taking L.A. by storm with three shows in a week before playing the SxSW festival, which saw them named as one of NPR’s ‘Top Acts To Watch’ as well as KCRW’s ‘Top 5 Bands’ to see, and receiving the warmest of welcomes: “Ethereal acoustic guitar with atmospheric electronics; Justin Vernon of Bon Iver meets M83… emotionally intense… awesome…want a band to speak to your soul?”
This matched their UK reception: “multi-layered electronic and acoustic ambiance that softly blends in hushed, instrument-like vocals…warm and increasingly hymnal electro-indie tapestries…Lyrics glide over deep, sonic pools, punctuated by warm guitar strings and prominent folk melodies…pretty much beautiful in every way.”
Take last year’s EP Hex’s opening song of the same name, a perfect showcase for the band’s matured and evocative sound, with a splicing of electronic and acoustic elements that combine skittering electronic beats and effects – all created from scratch by the band – with hymnal vocals full of glorious swells and fades. Mt. Wolf are one of the most finely balanced bunch of music-makers out there, juxtaposing delicacy with majesty, calmness with the storm. The four tracks of Hex show off their spine-tingling and cathartic sound, topped by Bassi Fox’s layers of ethereal choirboy, as he settles into the role of lead vocalist.
The aforementioned hiatus was down to the departure of original vocalist Kate Sproule, who, after the first two Mt. Wolf EPs (2012’s Life Size Ghosts and 2013’s Hypolight) chose the independence of a solo career. The remaining three members were left to contemplate the irony of a sudden flurry of Sound of 2014 blog tips, and no singer. The band initially split, but they kept in touch, and it wasn’t that long before their friendship, and love of the music, made them realise there was unfinished business to attend to. Not to downplay the beauty of their earlier records, but with Fox discovering this sublime vocal talent, Mt. Wolf were able to bond, consolidate and create an even more harmonious and unified sound.
First came the four-track Red EP. Uploading the record to Soundcloud was, “nerve-wracking but exciting,” recalls Stevie McMinn. “The reaction was better than we could have imagined. We didn’t realise people had missed us.” This was reaffirmed through their UK tour in November 2015, their first string of dates since what proved to be the original line-up’s swansong in December 2013, finishing in London with a sold-out show at Heaven.
With songs of slowburning tension – ‘St. Michael’ is over five minutes long, fellow Hex tracks ‘Anacrucis’ and the title track are over six minutes – the band are being occasionally compared to Iceland’s Sigur Rós, but if you’re going to be compared to anyone, it might as well be one of the best, and Mt. Wolf are well equipped to handle people’s raised expectations. But they stunned people the first time around, organically building an enviable fan base, and they’re in the process of doing it again. Their forthcoming live dates, starting with another trip to SxSW and then a headline show at London’s Hoxton Hall is another chapter in this big new beginning. There is no hex on this band; just the most mouth-watering of futures. And nothing can stop them this time.