Kristian Montgomery & the Winterkill Band, 'A Heaven for Heretics' | Album Review | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Kristian Montgomery & the Winterkill Band, 'A Heaven for Heretics'

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Kristian Montgomery & the Winterkill Band, A Heaven for Heretics - COURTESY
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  • Kristian Montgomery & the Winterkill Band, A Heaven for Heretics

(Self-released, digital)

Kristian Montgomery calls A Heaven for Heretics, his new album with the Winterkill Band, "another crawling out of the American gutter record." Though most Vermonters, given the recent whopper of a storm, were probably busier climbing out of snowbanks, Montgomery's hard-driving country music offers moments of explosive catharsis, perfect for blowing off steam after shoveling.

According to his web bio, Montgomery, a 2021 New England Music Awards and Boston Music Awards Country Artist of the Year nominee, was born in Florida. He later moved to New England, where his Danish-born father worked as a fisherman.

The singer-songwriter and guitarist said his reverend, a former professional tenor, noticed his church choir singing and encouraged him. Montgomery, inspired by his father's work, took to barrooms to sing sea chanteys, as well as Celtic and Scandinavian songs of fishermen's homecomings.

Montgomery, who fronted the Boston rock band Bone Dry System in the 1990s, has been based in Wallingford, Vt., since August. On A Heaven for Heretics, which follows 2021's Prince of Poverty and 2020's The Gravel Church, he has traded the shining sea for the jaded see — an outsider's visions of struggle.

"A Heaven for Heretics is for everyone who doesn't feel like they fit in," Montgomery told the website Rock at Nite. "We can be who we want when we want and love as deeply and as intimately as we can ... This album is about living."

Several of the 10 tracks on the album, which dropped on New Year's Day, suggest that the living is hard. In "The Year the Bottom Fell Out" — a title befitting any of these pandemic years — he sings, "Line 'em up / Put 'em down," perhaps referring to ordering a round of shots. "Lips are cracked / Whiskey stings," he continues, "but not worse than my back."

In the rockabilly "Ain't Got Nobody but Me," a woman bellies up to Montgomery's bar. Her lips "taste like Tennessee whiskey," and she "drinks like John Belushi and pretends she's onstage." They go back to his place, or somebody's place, and couple, groping bodies grasping at life.

"I want to feel like I'm drowning," Montgomery sings. "I just want to feel again."

The Winterkill Band, with Dave Leitch on bass, Jeff Armstrong on percussion and Joe Clapp (who produced the album at Ultrasound Productions in Hanover, Mass.) on guitars, hang tightly through shifts in tempo and tone. Montgomery cites Steve Earle and Townes Van Zandt as influences, but there are clear glimmers of Bob Seger, too.

Although the opener "I'll Break Your Heart Again" is reportedly getting Vermont airplay, the album's sticky mind-twister is "Family Owned." The song describes a bloodthirsty ghoul that crawls not from a gutter but from a grave.

"He'll bury his teeth; claws will dig in deep," Montgomery sings on the song's video to black-and-white scenes from the 1943 horror movie Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man. "He tears them apart and feasts on their bones."

Montgomery seems not shocked but sanguine. "The dog might roam," he sings, "but he's family owned." The lesson: Don't dread the devil you know.

A Heaven for Heretics is available at kristianmontgomeryandthewinterkillband.bandcamp.com.