Vancouver’s always-imaginative Black Mountain strode down from Mount Olympus in 2005 with its self-titled debut album and since then we’ve been treated to a series of strong and stylistically diverse albums. IV proves no exception.
“Mothers of the Sun,” an impressive, eight-minute slab of aural theatre opens this record and finds the quintet taking us on a journey through all those eclectic musical turns. There’s heavy, distorted Black Sabbath-style guitar riffs, classically-influenced keyboard maneuvers and haunting vocals (courtesy Amber Webber) that recall classic era progressive rock. It’s wrapped in a gauze of dis-ease with saturated reds and oranges suggestive of recent albums from Damien Jurado wherein he re-creates the acid-and-God vibe of cults and communes from this bygone era.
What Black Mountain has long been able to convey that many of its contemporaries and predecessors have not is a sense of sex. No one turns to a Yes or Genesis album when it comes time to make out but there’s something seductive here, something behind the hushed, wee hour frequencies of “Defector” and “Cemetery Breeding” that arouses the primal instincts in a way that few others can. That songs that reference strange, flying machines and, maybe, some sort of dystopian present or future, can kind of turn you on proves even more impressive.
Those sensibilities built up across 2008’s In the Future and 2010’s Wilderness Heart and inform but never overwhelm what we hear on IV. As the group become increasingly enamored of its more progressive tendencies it also honed its ability to write accessible material to a fine point.
Several pieces on Wilderness Heart would have broken a band from a previous era wide into the mainstream. The same might be said for “Crucify Me” here. It’s nearly five minutes of druggy manna, reminiscent of Alex Chilton’s narcotic invocations on Big Star’s Third. Acoustic guitars waver and quiver alongside lysergic sound treatments meant to conjure images of the East as much as outer space. Strip away these dressings, though, and at the core is still a remarkable song, one which takes us on that wide pendulum swing between the heart-elevating properties of love and abyss-plunging properties of loneliness.
If there’s a hint of accessibility in “Crucify Me”, then “Line Them All Up” is the kind of track meant to win over the unfamiliar within a few measures. It’s a gorgeous Floydian jaunt that would sound perfect squeezing its way out of your speakers during a late-night drive on a lonely two-lane highway somewhere in the outer limits of Alberta or Oklahoma.
And the more epic-minded material? The nearly nine-minute “(Over and Over) The Chain” is a slow-builder but as patiently and beautifully-crafted as of the slenderer numbers. It’s heavy music that doesn’t bludgeon, melodic music that doesn’t pander and far-reaching without over-reaching. The closing “Space to Bakersfield” also doesn’t overstay its welcome as it lifts the listener into the ether and holds us there as we await the next visit from Black Mountain which, by the calendar, could happen sometime this decade or maybe deep into another.
It needs to be said too that in a time when many are predicting rock’s ultimate demise, Black Mountain is a sturdy reminder that that music is still as vibrant and remarkable as it’s ever been and that there are great minds still capable of making meaningful music that can provide the listener with a transcendent experience and carry them out of the darkness and into the light.