You wouldn’t know it from being a casual observer, but Black Mountain has made significant strides over the course of the past ten years. As a result of their three LPs and accompanying EPs, they’ve garnered nominations for the prestigious Polaris Prize, a Juno nod in their native Canada and kudos for the eponymous debut which was named one of Amazon’s Top 100 Editor’s Picks of 2005. They’ve been so prolific in fact that the group’s leader, Stephen McBean, has spun off another ensemble, Pink Mountaintops, as a means of furthering his more experimental inclinations.
Not that he really needed to. A listen to the group’s self-titled initial outing reveals the fact that McBean’s brain was literally overflowing with all kinds of extravagant ideas, most of them well beyond the bounds of your typical rock format. Even now, on the tenth anniversary of that momentous release, his far-sided experimentation remains as daunting as it was when it was first unveiled to an unsuspecting public. Black Mountain’s songs not only break the boundaries, they positively defy them as well, taking the music from a deep groove to a full out extemporaneous wail certain to scare off the faintest of heart. It’s not a pretty sound, but it is one that’s bound to leave an indelible impression. Not a sound for every taste, but one certain to garner admiration from those that can appreciate a significant degree of daring.
For those that need convincing, the new version of Black Mountain comes packaged with a second disc that includes the whole of the album, the entire early Druganaut EP, various bonus tracks and a pair of demos unique to this particular edition. They make for fine add-ons, all of which offer additional insight into McBean’s complex, often times confounding M.O. Obvious influences begin to surface, from the scratchy riff rocker “Buffalo Swan” — which sounds like the Velvet Underground on a tear — to the barrage of noise and mayhem that marks the original album version of “No Satisfaction,” a song that could easily be appropriated by Neil Young and Crazy Horse when their derring-do calls for a boy’s night out.
Not surprisingly then, the chaos and cacophony are spread over the entirety of these two discs, with the only hint of respite coming in the form of the somewhat cheery original take of “No Satisfaction.” The remainder of the material brings with it the full fury of a man possessed. The hollow-eyed moan of “Druganaut” in extended form takes the song off towards the cosmos, while the mournful “Set Us Free” maintains its low cast resolve. Similarly, the tortured tones of “Don’t Run Our Hearts Around” suggests that the echo of discontent is proportional to the full effect of its disconnect. Regardless, Black Mountain has come to represent the sound of a band that’s unleashed and unhinged in equal proportion. Ten years on, it’s as daunting as ever.