Jeff Pearson, January , 2013
Listen: “Miracle Temple Holiness”
Growing up in the South, I have noticed a trend of two very distinct answers popping up when an individual is asked the question, “What kind of music do you like?” It’s typically either, “Everything from country to rap,” or, “Everything. Well, except country and rap.” It’s always been interesting to me that both types of people have the common bookends of country and rap to their “everything,” perhaps as good an indication as any of both of the musical styles’, though wildly different in sound, firm grasp on the south. Both have the ability to traverse and even represent the varied elements of the south, the concrete rapidity of the cities and the slow, dusty rural expanses. With Mount Moriah’s Miracle Temple, the Chapel Hill, North Carolina band’s breakout record with Merge, a version of the south is painted that encapsulates the “everything” that falls within the bookends while remaining on those marginal outskirts. The record is a dirt road leading out of a metropolis, a way to connect the masses to the untrodden land.
Taking the analogy further than the simple fact that their new digs at Merge allow them a broader listening base, the record itself plays like a drive on that very road; the sonic degradation that occurs from “Younger Days” to “Telling The Hour” is symbolic of the gradual separation of the band from a more mainstream audience. “Younger Days” is upbeat and lively, perhaps the band’s finest offering to the world of radio, while over the course of the record the sheen is stripped away by pain and unsalvaged neglect, like an abandoned truck’s slick paint job giving way to rust and overgrowth on the side of some backcountry highway–almost as if the earth reaches out and reclaims the ore with which it was made. By the end of Miracle Temple, the listener is lost in a seemingly endless abyss of searing guitars and dark atmospheres, wiping away the memory of the outlook that this would be a fun jaunt into the world of country that “Younger Days” might have hinted.Interestingly, it’s as if Mount Moriah’s music feeds off of that degradation and pain, searching the darkness for a light that just isn’t there, but burning the house down in the process, as the incredibly fitting sleeve artwork indicates.
Each song on Miracle Temple seems to pick up where the last left off, gaining momentum with each successive note. Heather McEntire’s voice guides the whole thing along, giving her the appearance of the one at the helm of Mount Moriah’s descent into the darkness on Miracle Temple, but upon closer investigation, her unwavering vocals seem to tell a different story. It’s almost as if she is clinging to the hope for a happy ending, the dreamer inside that burning house left to serenade the crumbling of everything around her. By the time she howls, somewhat haunting in its poignancy, “Punish me with the cruelest summer / And let regret swell inside,” on “Telling The Hour,” it’s as if she has accepted her fate, allowing the flames to engulf her.
Miracle Temple isn’t all doom and gloom, however. On their way down, Mount Moriah highlight the complexities of the human condition with all of the ups and downs that come with simply being human, or perhaps more specifically, being a southerner. McEntire and Jenks Miller sound like Eat A Peach-era Allman Brothers tearing through “Eureka Springs,” a song chronicling the lives within the small Ozark Mountain town of the same name with as much southern spirit as style held within the harmonized, “Jessica”-style guitar solos. “Rosemary” is similarly painted in an upbeat light, giving depth to the record and more weight to the songs like “Miracle Temple Holiness” and “Swannanoa,” where brooding, white-hot guitars replace the more optimistic ones. In that regard, it’s obvious that Mount Moriah understands the importance of dynamics within their records; the searing second half of Miracle Temple is much more powerful when placed in juxtaposition with the somewhat bright-eyed first half, and helps make the record feel more complete.
With Mount Moriah’s self-titled debut record, much of the potential to put forth this kind of graduated effort was there, but the band seems to have taken far more risks with Miracle Temple. McEntire spent the better part of a decade before forming Mount Moriah in a post-punk band called Bellafea, and while she kept that raw, unbridled energy at bay for much of Mount Moriah, it goes unchecked for a large portion of Miracle Temple. Having some of the spirit of punk music infiltrate the often strictly-laid confines of country music gives the Chapel Hill a much more defined identity; it really sounds as if they have found their stride with this record and know their bounds–or lack of them, rather. “Miracle Temple Holiness” is driven along by dark, rolling guitars that sound like thunder over the rolling Blue Ridge hills that the band calls home, a meeting of McEntire’s musical identities.
It is really that, the keen ability the band shows of maneuvering any mood or style with ease, and more importantly with talent, that makes Miracle Temple a success in its ventures of encompassing the southern culture at a specific point in time. Its reach will ultimately prove to be almost endless–the record is both the “everything” within the bookends and the bookends themselves.