Review Summary: Ever Felt Like You Just Dreamt for Light Years in the Belly of a Mountain?
We've been here before. In 2008 Canadian retro rockers Black Mountain released the prog and psychedelia indebted 'In the Future' and met with largely positive, though hardly orgasmic, acclaim. This was a band clearly in thrall of the stoner and space rock acts of the 70's, and while no one could argue they were less than competent students of the era, there was undoubtedly something holding them back from true greatness; regrettably their music frequently emphasised the very most hoary tropes associated with these genres (indistinct melodies, overlong arrangements, flavourless vocals) and that all important fizz of invention was painfully lacking. As a result seven plus minute epics like 'Tyrants' and 'Bright Lights' were only sporadically thrilling and ultimately fell flat; they were microcosms of the band's entire musical approach, each a victim of excessive bloat and sprawl. The sad truth is that back in '08 this band sagged worse than Ozzy Osbourne's sexagenarian balls.
Fast forward to 2016 and it only takes two songs to establish that with the release of 'IV' we're now dealing with a very different Black Mountain. As eight minute psychedelic tracks go 'Mothers of the Sun' is as slick as you'll find, the winning mix of snaking Sabbath riffs and Amber Webber's crystal pure vocals giving last year's Tame Impala mega-hit 'Let it Happen' a run for its money. The band also appear to have got the memo about track pacing as 'Florian Saucer Attack' fair tumbles out of the traps; the garage punk riffs and 80's pop synth lines casting Black Mountain in an entirely different, but equally brilliant, light. Fizz you ask" It's everywhere.
So this is an impressively consistent album but that's not to say it doesn't boast some highlights. The laser-guided goth pop direct-hit 'Cemetery Breeding' shows that Black Mountain have the ability to turn into The Cure reincarnate whenever the mood takes them; whisper it but Stephen McBean and Amber Webber also sound a great deal sexier than Robert Smith ever did. A lot of singers would stumble delivering lyrics like '*** me in the graveyard...you're my everything, I'll love you forever' but you have to hand it to McBean he delivers them with enviable romantic gravitas. Meanwhile a song like 'Defectors' catches him displaying the sort of effortless cool Bobby Gillespie and the rest of his assembled Primal Scream droogs would sell their remaining functioning hips for; 'I want to be a defector' you say...on this evidence who wouldn't"
As impressive as these standout tracks are it's important to emphasise that with 'IV' we're dealing with a honing of strengths rather than a total reinvention and in particular the faintly mystical atmosphere the band established on 'In the Future' has largely been retained. Webber's vocals still take on the same disembodied yet strangely intense quality that's always been so arresting in the past; the effect when paired with McBean's voice is undeniably powerful and draws comparison to the work of Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker in Low. Some of the more expansive and free-form moments that appear here like the nine minute long 'The Chain' or tripped out 'You Can Dream' find these dual vocals slipping close to mantra territory and, along with the employment of a multitude of synth and electronic effects, help to conjure up a vibe of ritualistic flame flickering exoticness.
Fittingly the album wraps up in style, the stellar opening pair of songs matched by a 1-2 comedown special every bit their equal; the cosmic ballad 'Crucify Me' and splifftastic extended Floyd-esque jam 'Space to Bakersfield' together form an inviting cloud upon which the listener can finally recline and drift away. Four albums is a fair old hike to get to this point but from this lofty vantage it's finally starting to look like all that climbing was worth it. When a band chooses to label an album with a number this far into their career it tends to suggest they've an eye on establishing their legacy among the rock n' roll pantheon and while they'll be hard pressed to usurp Sabbath as the most famous of the mighty 'Black' rock acts if they can release a few more albums of this quality Mountain might just slip past yer Flags, Crowes and Keys to bag that coveted second spot.