I’m on my third listen of Black Mountain’s newest opus, the labyrinthine IV. It should be no surprise that I will need a few more listens before I’ve covered all the nooks and crannies of this stately beast of an album, but I can say very confidently that everything they’ve done beforehand has been building to this record. All the bloodshot jams, the proggy galloping towards Valhalla, and the mind-blowing epic musical journeys have led us to IV. Nearly an hour of synth and organ-caked folksy doom metal and 70s-mountainous prog rock that covers all of Black Mountain’s bases are present, yet this new record still comes across as something tighter and more focused; refreshed and next level. Maybe all the side projects between band members(Pink Mountaintops, Sinoia Caves, Lightning Dust, Kodiak Deathbeds) allow Stephen McBean, Jeremy Schmidt, Amber Webber, Brad Truax, and Joshua Wells to come back to Black Mountain free of mental clutter and ready to write as a band. Whatever it is, it’s working. IV is the first big epic record of 2016. It could also end up being one of the best of the year.
When you open an album with a song like “Mothers of the Sun” you’re not messing around. It’s eight and a half minutes of brooding, churning menace. Jeremy Schmidt’s tasteful and elegant keyboards fill the song with organ, synth, and mellotron warmth as Webber and McBean sing tales of woe before chunky guitar comes rolling in to add a touch of heady metal to the proceedings. This is what Black Mountain excel at; epic songs that carry the listener through phases of dark and light with emphasis on one hell of a riff. “Florian Saucer Attack”(a nod to Popul Vuh’s Florian Fricke perhaps?) is a driving rock and roll barn burner that’s just as much punk attitude as it is fist-pumping late-70s British metal, with a touch of Rush thanks to those synth flourishes. Amber Webber hasn’t sounded better, either. Her vocals are something to curl up into and get lost in. “Defector” has a swagger thanks to Stephen McBean’s voice and some serious strut in the rhythm. Jeremy Schmidt adds an air of mystery with some great synth affectations.
Elsewhere “Cemetery Breeding” brings an almost 80s feel, like The Church and Gary Numan combined forces in 1983 and came up with this spacey and dreamy number. “(Over And Over) The Chain” sounds a lot like Schmidt’s solo project Sinoia Caves. A brooding and epic synth-driven track that is equal parts Tangerine Dream, Uriah Heep, and Black Sabbath. At nearly nine minutes the track feels like an extended interlude before the droning and beautiful “Crucify Me”. This song reminds me at times Wilco’s exquisite “Poor Places”. Both are songs that excel at space and filling that space with just the right amount of beauty and dysfunction. Could this be one of the most earnest and gloriously “pop” songs Black Mountain have ever put to tape? Maybe. The album ends on the galactically melancholy “Space To Bakersfield”. A cross of Pink Floyd, Procol Harum, and Popol Vuh. Not a bad note to end on really. Like most things Black Mountain, it’s cavernous, perpetually trippy, and a satisfying buzz to go out on.
Black Mountain have never made an album that you fall into, jam on, and then put away. Each record they put out are masterpieces in space and mood. If you’re in a hurry and want a quick fix then go find something in the “kids” section. Black Mountain make albums for the inquisitive and hungry mind and ear. You find your in and you step inside their records; you live with the songs and sleep with the melodies. You wear their songs in. They may not fit right away, but give it time. Pretty soon you’ll wonder how you ever did without their songs and albums. IV is their best yet. After the third listen I’m inside this record now. I’ve found a good spot to sit and chill. This is where I belong for the time being. Drop that needle for me on your way out, will you? Thanks.
Editor’s Note: I have to mention how much I love the album cover for IV. Brings to mind so many great album covers from the 70s. UFO, Scorpions, Rush, and Blind Faith all come mind. Very reminiscent of others, but still very much its own thing. Anyways, just had to point out that amazing album art.