Leader John Darnielle returns as storyteller for the Mountain Goats’ third album with its current lineup. All Eternals Deck explores the unknown in 13 indie folk-rock anthems, each carrying a sense of something foreboding, something that makes you squirm while bobbing your head to Darnielle’s carefree guitar.
Whether it’s part of the composition or the lyrics, the group creates a new “unknown” on each track to put you right in the scene with it. It starts right away with “Damn These Vampires” where Darnielle curses the supernatural beings for what they’ve done to him, never telling us exactly what it is they’ve done. All we know is he’s been damaged, and that uncertainty is making us uneasy and curious.
Bassist Peter Hughes and drummer Jon Wurster paint the backdrop for Darnielle’s stories, providing the right mix of instrumentation and backing vocals to accentuate Darnielle’s tales and allow the plots to unfold. It doesn’t stop at just bass and drums on some songs. “Age Of Kings” employs a string section that permeates the entire track and takes over on an instrumental break. It doesn’t make for an orchestral atmosphere, but instead it emits a mysterious eastern feel. At other times, the group cuts back on instrumentation completely, like on “High Hawk Season” where Hughes and Wurster abandon their instruments to provide backing vocals while Darnielle leads the melody and plays his acoustic guitar.
As with most albums, the order of the tracks on All Eternals Deck is vital. There’s an ebb and flow that thrusts you forward into the band’s “unknown” and also keeps you stationary as that “unknown” creeps around you. Each song builds upon the last, culminating in a frenzy on “Estate Sale Sign” before mellowing out and doing it all again. It’s the motion of the album that compels you through it, leaving you with a need for some resolution in what the next track will bring.