John Darnielle is a huge metal fan. He even wrote a book about Black Sabbath in 2008 as part of the 33 ⅓ Continuum Press Series, and on All Eternals Deck, death metal legend Erik Rutan (Morbid Angel, Hate Eternal) produced four of the 13 tracks.
But that's where the metal stops; All Eternals Deck is a tried-and-true Mountain Goats release that won't disappoint fans. Darnielle just knows how to write a great song with really playful and clever lyrics. I've personally never been one to look too much into the lyrical content, but Darnielle is an undeniable natural poet whose words you simply can't ignore. His nasally, shaky voice and poetic lyrics are only augmented on this album by his fellow musicians including Peter Hughes (Nothing Painted Blue) and Jon Wurster (Superchunk).
For some Darnielle's voice is a deal breaker, but others just eat it up. I'm in the latter camp and could listen to him read the phone book. That being said, the album isn't flawless; there are certainly tracks that border on slightly boring and perhaps give the feeling of being a bit forced. I listened to this album on repeat for several work days, in part to prep for this review and also just out of pure enjoyment, and found myself consistently going for the next button when "Age of Kings" came on. Lyrically, I don't think this is Darnielle's best work, and sonically, there is a section where a whole mess of strings come in and it just seems slightly disingenuous, which is a little surprising for the Mountain Goats.
Don't get me wrong–overall, All Eternals Deck is a great album. The low moments are strongly outweighed by gems like "High Hawk Season", with its delightful barbershop-style harmonies interlaced throughout. The dark, low-key opening track "Damn These Vampires" is a personal favorite. Lyrically, it's like a sparse spaghetti western starring vampires, with really great tongue-in-cheek lines like "God damn these bite marks / Deep in my arteries." And the chorus of this song is a winner that I can easily see a crowd singing along at the top of their lungs:
"Crawl till dawnIf you were never really a fan of the Mountain Goats, I don't think this is going to be the album that changes your mind. However, if you're already on board, come sing along with John and I–god damn these vampires.
On my hands and knees
God damn these vampires
For what they've done to me..."