There is always a lot of talking about China, economic growth, human rights, martial arts and food, about this huge country full of contradictions, at the same time fascinating and scary for those who experience it from without (or within). However, it is widely known by now that in China — although with many obstacles — there is an (almost) submerged underground world flourishing with arts, music, and culture in general, featuring ideas coming from many diverse sources.
Deep Mountains have definitely been a part of it since their entrance in the local and international scene in 2010 with their amazing eponymous debut (also released through Pest Productions). At the time, the band developed as a Chinese answer to the atmospheric black-folk metal wave originated from the Northwestern United States. As for their second album, I must admit I was expecting something closer to that vein as well, I was wrong. The first substantial difference can already be seen in the visuals: the style of the debut has been abandoned altogether (Chinese traditional landscape painting with the name of the band carefully written with a calligraphic style), preferring this time the image of a woman immersed in a lake (conceptually close to the painting chosen for “Funeral” by Ghost Bath), the names of the album and the band are also featured in English and with a definitely more readable font.
Lake Of Solace is a record by a band already aware of being among the main names of their label (and possibly of the entire local scene), apparently moving away from what made them famous in their first installment and looking for a more adventurous path. Black metal is here an evanescent presence, at the same time in and out of the world portrayed by the band; while the post-rock elements have expanded as far as to become the main means of expression. The tranquil introduction, somewhat reminiscent of such projects as Om and the latest Earth, takes us to the beginning of this journey through the sound of water. After this, it almost seems the album is about to take off towards black metal, but this doesn’t happen and distortions soon leave room to quiet arpeggioes accompanying the half-screamed vocals by Liu Qiang. Suddenly, black metal comes in, and Deep Mountains‘ music will keep flowing from one element to another throughout the whole work. The third track is arguably among their best, halfway between traditional Chinese music and rock.
The two-part title-track is structured as a fifteen-minute suite bordering on depressive metal, balancing acoustic and distorted guitars. The lyrics are all in Chinese and stride a little from the “natural” themes seen in their debut, although not leaving them altogether. “Ballad Of Nai River” (“渿河謠”) is an acoustic ballad sung by Zhang Yingjie’s female voice — in a style closer to Chinese folk songs — and bringing water sounds back reconnecting it to the first song. The final track “Li Fenghua” (“李鳯華”) is an acoustic instrumental calmly closing the record, not too far from the latest instrumentals by Anathema.
In general, it seems that Lake Of Solace falls a bit short on cohesion, and the continuous mixing up of elements by the band might result a little bit tough to follow. In “Detachment” (“超脫”) Deep Mountains try to develop their ideas in a more orderly manner, building the song around some English language spoken recordings about society’s obsession for a certain kind of external appearance.
In short, Lake Of Solace sure is something different from what we could have expected by a band that released that debut in 2010; it is, however, an album aware of its potential, that can give a good forty minutes worth of content to whoever is interested in exploring it. Do not expect a black metal record with all the trimmings, or even a metal record at that.