Release Date: February 24, 2015
Label: Don Giovanni
After ten years and six albums with Screaming Females, Marissa Paternoster has found her voice. Not that it was exactly missing in the New Brunswick basement punks’ earlier work — witness the powerfully delivered “I Don’t Mind It,” from 2010’s Castle Talk. But now the firmly DIY Don Giovanni headliners (whose ranks also include bassist Michael Abbate and drummer Jarrett Dougherty) have unleashed Rose Mountain, and the trio’s musical evolution is impossible to miss even in its gradual subtlety. This latest effort shift boils down to two key foci: bolder, less guarded lyrical choices (much of the record deals with Paternoster’s ongoing battle with chronic mono) and more strategic space for the frontwoman’s legendary guitar solos.
Leading Screaming Females for the last decade and performing solo as Noun since 2008, Paternoster has had ample time to hone her uniquely abrasive alto — which, by all accounts, has always been loud, proud, and fully indicative of the band’s banshee-minded name. (Even Garbage’s Shirley Manson has bookmarked this band, telling SPIN, “Marissa’s voice really jumped out at me.”)
And while Paternoster’s voice is stronger and more sure of itself on Rose Mountain, her instrumental pyrotechnics are reorganized, redistributed, and — dare we say it — toned down? “Wishing Well” in particular features uncharacteristically melodic guitar work and an inspirative message (“In my next life I’ll be better”), which certainly diverges from earlier shredding bonanzas like 2009’s ferocious Power Move or the behemoth that is 2012’s Ugly. But putting her vocals front and center with harmonies skilfully layered by producer Matt Bayles gives longtime fans of Paternoster’s enviable guitar acrobatics another reason to love her.
Her hands are hardly tied on Rose Mountain, though. On the chunky, distorted “Criminal Image,” Paternoster’s strings wail like that Marty-McFly-meets-the-super-amp scene in Back to the Future. The album’s title track, too, introduces itself like a metal anthem before turning down substantially with Paternoster asking (relatively) gently, “Won’t you marry me on Rose Mountain? / I’m nothing like the others.” This is true.
The bowl-haired firecracker lights up again on album standout “Triumph,” which throws you in the pit with blazing (but not sloppy) solos, then self-contains as Paternoster resolves to “drag you down in the crowd” and “destroy my history.” Such straightforward honesty is new for Patenoster, who, in previous works, seemed the most emotionally stripped-down when she had a lot of anger to unload (“Red Bone,” “Boss”). Album opener “Empty Head” spotlights another sensitive moment where Paternoster opens up about a relationship gone south: “And if our rapport is so sour / You’re a big bank and I owe you / I’ll take your silence as a sign / You’re a big shot but who needs who?”
It’s that kind of sonic switch-up that keeps Rose Mountain interesting. Where the jackhammering “Ripe” muscles you into a headlock early on, “Hopeless” a few tracks later has Paternoster unveiling a rare display of vulnerability: “And I’m trapped at home / Just waiting for you to call / I know it’s over now,” she sings with a sadness that earns its title. It’s a brief glance into a typically reserved artist’s psyche, but that’s the beauty of their most polished record to date — Screaming Females have not only cleared hurdles; now they’re scaling mountains.