Lightning Bolt: Hypermagic Mountain

Lightning Bolt
Hypermagic Mountain

“There’s definitely a bigger audience now. Our initial audience was our friends, and it grew to our friends and people in other cities who could have been our friends who we didn’t really know yet, and now it’s grown to all those other people. Not to insult our audience. It seems like one of the most exciting things about playing music is you’re almost introducing yourself to people, like a big loud, ‘Hello, this is who I am.'”
— Brian Chippendale, Wire, Issue 262, December 2005

It’s kind of surprising that in the wake of the hip-hop explosion and pop phenomenon, the newest buzzworthy sound seems to be the metal and noise scenes. Perhaps for people tired of artificial pop stars and hip-hop’s often insincere swagger, there is something attractive about primal, uncensored, full volume, throat-shredding abandon. There is a strange comfort when media like the New York Times reporting on the underground metal explosion, and labels such as Sub Pop are supporting extreme acts like Wolf Eyes.

It would be naïve though, to view Lightning Bolt as just another band thrashing at full volume. The duo of Brians (Chippendale and Gibson) are accomplished artists, and each Lightning Bolt release is also a display of their visual fury. Hypermagic Mountain is certainly no different. The cover art features thick, Crayola-saturated colors, multiple curious-looking figures, landscapes, inanimate objects, and random words all mixed into an impenetrable stew. But once you put the disc in, it becomes quickly apparent that no other illustrations could come close to capturing the madness the album contains.

For anyone familiar with Lightning Bolt’s aesthetics, Hypermagic Mountain certainly doesn’t deviate from the band’s usual progressive metal format. But what will surprise and delight fans is the group’s ability to sound even fiercer than they ever have before. Recorded over three weeks and captured live to two track tape, Hypermagic Mountain sounds positively Olympian. With the help of longtime producer Dave Auchenbach, the band manages to squeeze an ungodly amount of sound into a limited space.

When the album kicks off with “2 Morro Morro Land”, Gibson and Chippendale unleash enough riffs and skin pounding rhythms for a band three times their size. Perhaps even more amazing than Gibson’s surprisingly diverse riffing (that can sound both like a guitar and a bass) is Chippendale’s brainmelting, heat-seeking drumming. Precise, yet somehow effortless, he gets the pulse of the disc racing and pretty much doesn’t let up. The album’s first songs are four, three-minute nuggets of awe-inspiring bass, drums, and alien radio voices. The ambient sounds of the beginning “Megaghost” — that kick off the album’s middle section — offer a brief moment of breathing space before the band kicks right back into high gear again.

“Magic Mountain”, the disc’s quasi title track, is a forever-building piece of sonic sludge. “Dead Cowboy” is the band’s anti-Bush track, but without the lyric booklet nearby you’d never have any idea. You’d be too busy enjoying the track’s astonishing structure as it moves easily from serpentine licks to ear crumbling blasts of rhythm to sheets of white noise. “Bizarro Zarro Land” closes the middle of the disc with Lightning Bolt’s approximation of Eddie Van Halen’s “Eruption”, that begins with some astonishing fretwork that later becomes a righteous stoner jam before igniting again in a final display of finger-burning riff work.

The band save their most experimental tracks to help close out the album. “Infinity Farm” is nearly three minutes of tone exercises that slowly build into crescendos of noise that introduce the final track: “No Rest for the Obsessed”. But Lightning Bolt have the last laugh. Just when you think the album will end on a downer, they offer one final delicious spurt of bass and drum heaven.

At nearly an hour, Hypermagic Mountain can be somewhat overwhelming in one sitting, and is best taken in small doses. But this is a minor quibble, as even at half its length, Lightning Bolt’s output would still rank them among the top bands of the noise scene, while still having more than enough to uncover on repeat listenings. With just enough experimentation to hint at new and future directions, while seamlessly blending improvisation and smartly conceived songs, Hypermagic Mountain is Lightning Bolt’s finest achievement to date. And for first time listeners, Lightning Bolt’s fourth album will be one hell of a ‘hello’.

RATING 8 / 10