By Ryan Lacerda
Artist: Black Mountain
Release Date: April 1, 2016
Vancouver based band Black Mountain confidently claims their newest album, IV, is their “strongest material to date.” IV’s experimental return and artistic reach has been positively welcomed by classic fans and was probably necessary to re-engage their true fan base following their poppier and less experimental Wilderness Heart (2010.)
In stark contrast to their soft punk introductory track “The Hair Song” on Wilderness Heart, “Mothers of the Sun” ignites in just 14 seconds with a heavy Sabbath-meets-Muse-and -Queens-of-The-Stone-Age guitar riff. The heaviness is just a bluffing tease though, as it disappears quickly for a minute-long slow, ambient build-up. Jeremy Schmidt’s celestial synthesizer beautifully enchants the song with a Lord-of-the-Rings forest-like Celtic tune before dropping off for more build-up. Finally, the introductory guitar riff comes back to flaunt its deck and drives the song back to super jam status. Four minutes in, a superb ripping guitar solo is the icing on the cake. Lead guitarist and vocalist, Stephen McBean, is noticeably influenced by Eddie Hazel from Funkadelic and constructs a piercing, jiving solo with pentatonic and minor pentatonic scales covered in wah pedal effects, other acid rock touches and the bass turned up on the pickup.
Possibly alluding to prophetic Pink Floyd’s early Saucerful of Secrets, “Florian Saucer Attack” is a flood of interstellar boogie. Female lead vocalist Amber Webb’s tremulous alto and rockpunk tonality strikes a mix of Grace Slick from Jefferson Airplane, Florence Welch from Florence the Machine and Stevie Nicks from Fleetwood Mac, blended into one distinctive voice. Jeremy Schmidt balances his trippy synths with McBean’s bombastic guitar. This song is faster tempo and drummer Joshua Wells’s beats make it great for thrashing around and spilling half of your overpriced drink on other audience members’ shoes. Two minutes in and a celestial synth line makes me feel like I’m riding a rollercoaster in a futuristic space park.
The next song is a solid testament that proves how classic rock can fuse with modern rock and still sound novel and soulful. “Defector” begins with an ascending minor key synth lead which harmonizes with a descending synth line which throws off your prediction of the next note. The synth melts into both singers singing together in delicious harmony. In fact, I can’t say I’ve heard another band nail this sort of mix in such a refreshing way. An exciting guitar riff invites the beginning synth piece back and the two instruments jam along with a perfect slow-drum beat into a musical journey. Although starting with an electrical arcade-like synth lead, “You Can Dream” quickly becomes boring and bleak. The guitar melody a minute in also disappoints. This song focuses on the lyrics which are more clear than in any other song due to less volume on background instruments in the mix. It starts to take off for a bit before being grounded again by the same non-impressing vocals and drab lyrics, “You can dream/You can dream/You can dream/Come on by the dream/You can dream/Dream dream dream/Come on by the dream.”
“Constellations” has a repeating, light grungy riff that would get old if not for the synth’s planetarium sounds accompanying it throughout. McBean’s vocals are once again are off in my opinion. He sounds short of breath and bored. Joshua Wells on drums doesn’t add much in this one either; he repeats the same rhythm over and his fills are shamefully predictable.
Ah yes, the soothing rich sound of picked strings on a steel string guitar. “Line Them All Up” changes the album’s vibe, which is good because the songs were starting to sound too similar to one another. This campfire song brings their all-over-the-place electro-psychrock sound back to earth, and Webb’s vocals are sweeter than ever. It builds up around the 2:30 minute mark and delves deeper with evocative and haunting, yet serene melodies exploring harmonic delicacies.
Although it has a morbid title, “Cemetery Breeding” features McBean’s best vocals so far and Wells brings back the tempo along with Schmidt’s dream-wavish synths. The lyrics, “And I’m waiting for that girl/ Who once said she will love me forever/Dance around the tombstones/Cemetery vibes alive young and breathing/Ooh when you looked in my eyes/ I was dreaming of suicide” aren’t the most romantic lyrics I’ve ever heard though. Also, “breed” is a scientific word that refers to sex as a reproductive activity. So he’s not really saying to make love next to Lincoln’s tombstone. The song is catchy though with the high tone synth notes giving it a danceable vibe.
“(Over and Over) The Chain” takes a whopping three minutes to get interesting. But, in their defense, it does get interesting. The ancient drum beat makes me imagine a temple and his king are about to throw a discovered spy into a volcano pit while all the temple’s people are watching with torches ablaze and chants in unison.
“Crucify Me” before I listen to this song again. I almost fell asleep before unfortunately realizing I was just two minutes in. To make up for it, the last song, “Space to Bakersfield,” has a dub-rhythm sounding soulful intro and a guiding segmented bass line. The song is alright: It’s good; It’s not great; it’s not bad. It has a BEAUTIFUL outro though and Webb’s voice is more than relaxing.
My favorite album by Black Sabbath is IV, so naturally I approached this album skeptically. They aren’t nearly as heavy as Sabbath. A few guitar riffs in “Mothers of The Sun” and “Florian Attack Saucer” sound like Tony Iommi’s style. Pink Floyd’s experimental material in the ’70s foreshadowed the fundamental role of sonic architecture in the future of music and Black Sabbath proved that you can make more from less. Combining both influences, Black Mountain fearlessly upholds the currently unmarketable past classic rock genre and moves bravely into contemporary alternative and modern psychedelia, defining what a classic rock band in the new millennium sounds like. TLDR; listen to “Mother of the Sun,” “Florian Saucer Attack,” “Defector,” and “Cemetery Breeding.”
IV is an unforgivingly determined album of seasoned musicians who have climbed the peak of their inspirations, and it’s got good ol’ age-earned grit. The album was unpredictable; It began brilliantly then slowed down and tried to pick back up but didn’t really make it back. IV is majestically trippy but not in a scatter-brained way. Black Mountain reveals what ’70s rock would sound like with a millennial’s mentality, and that’s what makes IV a creative and status-quo smashing album.