Review Summary: "Wilderness Heart" encompasses everything one could ask for from a quality retro-rock album: great songcraft, supreme musicianship, classy production and a piece of nostalgia thrown in every single song.
Successfully differentiating themselves from the fray of Canadian rock acts, Vancouver outfit, Black Mountain, has released two impressive psychedelic rock albums to date. Their 2005 self-titled debut took the listeners by surprise delivering stylish music that didn't steer clear of catchy hooks. They followed up their initial hype with 2008's "In The Future," a heavier, more textured effort that found them exploring their psychedelic accretions in full. With their third defining album, "Wilderness Heart," Black Mountain certainly have had a great deal to prove. Their devoted fan base expected a psychedelia-laden extension to their sophomore record. However, the band decided to take a completely different direction with their style.
Sometimes it's necessary to take a step back in order to make a real progress. Black Mountain seem to be aware of this fact more than anybody else. That's why this time they reduced their psychedelic inclinations to minimum in favor of a more straightforward retro-rock approach. "Wilderness Heart" might be their least experimental disc, but the band's musical growth once again happens to be undisputable as the improvement in the songwritng department is evident. The album features the strongest and most consistent collection of songs they've ever put together. This being paired with the huge accessability is likely to gain some well-deserved mainstream popularity for this excellent quintet.
"Wilderness Heart" is the first album of Black Mountain that hasn't been self-produced. Working in a totally different environment than their home with producers Dave Sardy (Nine Inch Nails, Helmet) and Randall Dunn (Boris), the songs are well-thought-out as well as admirably focused. The act doesn't lose its authenticity though providing the performance that is as sincere as ever. "The Hair Song" opens the record with a chilled-out vibe immediately recalling mid-1970s classic rock. It's dansely layered with bluesy guitar work and thoughtful lyrics exploring the full potential of the newly realized weapon of the band.
The vocal duet of Stephen McBean and Amber Webber has never been so effective displaying an outstanding sense of melody. It was a great decision to make them vocally cooperate with each other so closely throughout the entire disc. The second track "Old Fangs" retains the same level of energy as its predecessor showcasing a more aggressive and less dreamy side of the band with wonderful interplay between harsh guitars and spaced-out keys. The rest of the album follows suit with the act referencing both Black Sabbath in the fast, guitar-driven "Let Spirits Ride" and Led Zeppelin in the groovy stoner rock of the titular track.
To make the record more diverse, the vibrant hard rock tracks are interwoven with stripped-down ballads that reveal a more lyrical, mellower countenance of the band. Even if they slow down the flow of the album a tad too much in the second half, Black Mountain still offer some unquestionable gems in this field. Both "Radiant Hearts" and "Buried By The Blues" are effectively intimate and atmospheric, but it's the closer "Sadie" that emerges as the most emotional and moving song on the entire disc with exquisite vocal melodies and such lines as "Things became vulgar when we became silent" especially being very powerful.
Marking a certain kind of departure for the band, "Wilderness Heart" encompasses everything one could ask for from a quality retro-rock album: great songcraft, supreme musicianship, classy production and a piece of nostalgia thrown in every single song. It truly lives up to its fantastic cover art.