Sometimes, I’m ashamed at how long I let an album sit in my queue. My backlog really exploded at the end of 2016, so I’m just now sneaking in a listen at several albums I received last year. One of these is the new solo work from Juan Pablo Calvo, producer and musician (keys and guitars) from Costa Rica. The project is called Will of the Mountain, and the debut “Cloud Walking” is indeed a gem that I wish I’d heard sooner.
Juan is joined, much like last year’s “Pulse of Nature” from Javier Sepulveda, by myriad musicians; but, unlike that other album, Juan has recruited multiple vocalists, as well. The album sounds like a true collaboration, then, with various types of voices, both male and female; but there is this one concrete musical style of music bringing them all together.
The list of collaborators here is pretty long. Vocalists include: Daniel Bissinger from Foffo Goddy, Felipe Pérez from 424, Adriana Muñoz from Adrenal, Jacobo Chaverri from Dream of Fire, Rodo Rod from Sleazer, Mariana Echeverría from Passiflora, Henry D’Arias from The Electric Creatures and David Cubero from Sr. Tijeras. The band includes: Federico Gutierrez on guitar, René Montiel on bass, Charlie Calvo on drums, and Ritchie Nieto on guitar. Juan also plays much of the guitar and keys.
The style of prog here is that vague subgenre called heavy prog, in my estimation. It’s not quite metal, but it’s not just rock, either. It’s like a mix of metal, post rock, and prog rock, really. That means that we get lots of riffing, but not brutally so. It means that the music has edge, but we also get lots of ambiance and atmosphere, too. Really, the music has a steely edge to it, but it is also quite beautiful and melodic, with some beautifully climactic moments. In more concrete terms, the style is this interesting combination of heavy prog (think Haken) with alternative rock (think 00’s) and this huge sense of melody and atmosphere (think Anathema). The style is pretty unique, and the sound is purely Juan.
I wasn’t going to mention it, but I have to do so. This album reminds me atmospherically and lyrically of Haken’s “The Mountain”. Now, it does not come off as derivative in any way, but the airy ambiance and the message about climbing your personal mountains and holding onto hope just seem very similar. In a way, it makes this album feel all the more familiar, but in a good way. I just love the image of rising above this life to be a “cloud walker”.
The music really exudes the message of the album, too. Guitars range from distorted riffing to delicate shoegaze sounds. The whole album exudes these feelings of goodness and peace, as if you just crested the summit of the biggest mountain peak in your life, and now you are riding that high in the silence and serenity of a world that is higher and different than you’ve ever known. That may sound very specific, but that’s the feeling I get from this beautiful album. Furthermore, bass and drums are meaty and technical, but not overly so. The rhythm section tends to add weight when necessary, but then pulls back for the moments of pure joy. Keys, too, are a major part of the album, and they are composed with grace and tranquility.
The vocalists are top notch from beginning to end. There isn’t one track where I disliked the vocals. This is also an eclectic collection of singers, ranging from peaceful female vocals to the 00’s style I mentioned to some very Guns ‘n Roses tones. The vocal lines and choruses are rather strong throughout the album, and so that bolsters the familiarity and listen-ability of the album as a whole.
I really do get this early 2000’s alt rock vibe on some of the tracks, and sometimes even a 90’s post-grunge, too. Songs like “In Your Shadow” (Jacobo) and “Take Flight” (Henry) have vocal melodies that remind me of bands like Candlebox, Pearl Jam, or some of the local bands in Cleveland. Some of the atmosphere and melody reminds me of other 90’s bands, like The Smashing Pumpkins. It’s an instant connection to this album for me. Keep in mind, though, that I’m not saying Juan is influenced by these bands at all; simply that these are the sounds and tones that come to mind during the album. In addition, songs like “Starlight” (Mariana) and “Evergreen” (Adriana) are led by female vocalists with very pure tones, and they are placed perfectly in the album. All of the vocalists do an excellent job.
“In Your Shadow” is my favorite for its post-grunge leanings, its stellar chorus, and the sweet instrumental in the middle. Other favorites are the heavy opener “Mountain”, the Tales of the Future-esque “Starlight”, and the awesome “Take Flight”. Every song has jaw-dropping moments, though.
So, Juan’s Will of the Mountain is a complete success. “Cloud Walking” is beautifully composed, nostalgic in melody, and hopeful in theme. It’s a complete package that I encourage you to hear soon.