Sludge-metal giants Mountain of Smoke have been in a state of evolution recently. Drummer PJ Costigan and bassist/vocalist Brooks Willhoite started off as a duo in 2013 before adding pedal steel guitarist Alex Johnson last year. And now, with the introduction of The Sword’s Kyle Shutt on guitar, the band has leveled up again.
Huge fans of each other’s music, Shutt would come see Mountain of Smoke whenever they’d gig in Austin. But finally, it was too much to handle, he said. He had to be in the band.
“I just couldn’t take it anymore,” Shutt said. “I just went up to them, and I was like ‘Guys, can I be your guitar player? Can I please be your guitar player.’ ”
It didn’t take much convincing.
Even though the guys live in different parts of the state — with Shutt in Austin and Costigan, Johnson, and Willhoite up north — they make it work. The quartet has played a handful of shows over the past few months with all four members. And the last gig was definitely was … explosive. Johnson’s amp caught on fire, and Shutt’s blew up, again cutting the quartet back down to a duo.
While it’s heavier than ever, Mountain of Smoke’s new material reveals a bit of a sonic shift. Most of the band’s previous work was inspired by the 1982 sci-fi classic Blade Runner, with lyrics to match, but Willhoite said that they wanted to explore new avenues with the latest batch of songs.
“It got difficult to continue writing about the same movie,” he said. “After about essentially 20 tracks, I was like, ‘OK, I’ve got nothing more to say about it.’ ”
Several tracks off the upcoming album, Endless Night, will retain a sci-fi theme. There are still a couple of Blade Runner-inspired cuts, but the band wrote tunes about another sci-fi flick, Dark City.
Willhoite also said he wanted to pen some semi-autobiographical songs. The band’s newest single, “The Weeping Spine,” is about his decision to pursue a career in the music industry when he could be spending more time with his family. Being in a band is physically taxing, too, and the bassist/vocalist is experiencing back pain.
“Swallowed by a beast / From an abandoned peace / You’ve forsaken joy / For a corrupt prestige,” Willhoite screams with a seasoned, gravelly snarl. “The weeping spine / Give it time / The weeping spine / Give it time.”
On the recently released song, Shutt’s Reverend guitar waxes unholy atop Willhoite’s crunchy bass, adding a new dimension to the band’s classic gargantuan sound. Johnson wields his pedal steel like a siren in the chorus, and Costigan pummels the kit with such ferocity he surely broke a few sticks along the way.
Producer Michael Briggs (Astronautalis, Sarah Jaffe, Pinkish Black) laid down Endless Night at Denton’s Civil Audio over the course of a week. Adding to the list of notable contributing musicians is True Widow’s Nikki Cage and Doomfall’s Katie Puryear, both of whom added vocals to some choice tracks.
The guys in Mountain of Smoke are also stoked to be nominated for best Metal/Hardcore Act in the 2019 Dallas Observer Music Awards. They’re competing against other heavy hitters like Power Trip and Mothership, plus Fort Worth’s own Duell and Pinkish Black. But Willhoite’s not exactly optimistic that they’ll take home this year’s honor: “Always the bridesmaid, never the bride,” he said with a laugh.
Aside from other new singles and their upcoming album, the guys have a lot to look forward to. They’re headlining the Double Wide in Dallas on Saturday, Nov. 2, and opening for Windhand at The Ridglea Room on Thursday, Nov. 7. And though they don’t have a set date for Endless Night’s release, they plan on shopping it to several labels to see who bites.
More than anything, though, Shutt said the guys in the band don’t take anything too seriously. They want to just keep shredding and melting faces until it stops being fun. And that doesn’t seem like it’s going to happen anytime soon.
“There’s nothing like the confidence of dudes who really don’t care,” he said. “It’s just like, ‘Hey, we’re here. We’re going to destroy y’all, and I don’t even fucking care what happens.’ ”