Release Date: Apr 1, 2016
Record label: Jagjaguwar
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Indie Rock, Neo-Psychedelia, Space Rock
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.
Some bands study their influences simply to reproduce their effects, while others strive to learn from them. Black Mountain's trademark blend of hard rock, prog, psychedelia, and a dash of folk drives their fourth album, insightfully titled IV. (Well, it's their fourth album if you don't count their soundtrack to the film Year Zero, and they clearly don't.) Black Mountain have long had one foot firmly planted in rock's past, but on IV they don't sound as if they're caught in a loop of nostalgia.
Five years is a long time in the music industry, but only if you play by the rules. Vancouver’s Black Mountain never have, so it seems right that it’s taken this long to follow up their third record, 2010’s Wilderness Heart. The wait is worth it. IV consists of 10 expansive and eclectic songs that straddle genres and push boundaries.
Those searching for echoes of Black Mountain's thunderous 2008 release In The Future won't find it in latest record IV. This is certainly not to say that these Canadian masters of 21st century psych rock have returned with a record of lesser merit. If 2010's Wilderness Heart was their answer to Houses Of The Holy, then IV is – ahem – their Led Zeppelin IV.
For most rock bands, naming an album IV may imply a lack of imagination, but coming from such studious classic-rock scholars as Black Mountain, it's a gesture loaded with significance. As history has shown, hard-rock bands tend to view their discographies like batting orders, and—whether officially or otherwise— a numerically branded "IV" has come to represent the clean-up hitter stepping up to the plate with the bases loaded. It's the moment where bands capitalize on established strengths and set out for parts unknown.
Black Mountain’s newest album, the aptly (and Black Sabbath-y) titled IV, starts exactly as it should: an eight-minute-long, wandering, twisting jam that builds from a single, repeated note. This is, of course, the Vancouverbased band’s fourth album, and their first since 2010’s Wilderness Heart. While that record was by no means bad, it was the weakest in their catalog.
Black Mountain have proven time and time again that there’s still a dire need to occupy the modern independent music landscape with a hefty serving of hard rock that doesn’t relate, or wants to, with any focus-tested indie trends. Not that that makes the Vancouver, British Colombia outfit infallible of any criticism, seeing as they’ve enjoyed the adulation of both rock purists and music webzine-conscious types alike; they’ve certainly crossed over in ways very few bands currently manage to, even if the music they create tends to get dismissed in most major publications. It’s almost as if they see this as an inevitable reflection of our times and end up making no apologies in album opener Mothers of the Sun, a scorching, doom-laced eight minute epic with punishing riffs that peddle a magic elixir that’ll instantly give you Ian Gilliam’s long, straight-laced locks.
Like Tame Impala's Kevin Parker, Stephen McBean excels at evoking the feeling of the past without making specific reference to it. That aesthetic shines through on Black Mountain's fourth album, appropriately if unimaginatively titled IV. Fusing the proggy-space vibes of In the Future with the breezier pop sounds of Wilderness Heart, the Vancouver band's latest unlocks a heretofore unheard heaviness that eschews the guitar riffage that's usually associated with the group.Thank producer Randall Dunn, who's brought a sense of ambient heft to artists like Sunn 0))) and Marissa Nadler, for the bait and switch; McBean's guitars are dialled back, leaving singer Amber Webber and keyboard player Jeremy Schmidt to do much of the heavy lifting.
Let's pause first for a moment to admire that cover! It looks like something right out of your dad's box of water-damaged classic rock vinyl, pulled from between AC/DC's Dirty Deeds and Styx's Pieces of Eight. This is an album cover that your 13-year-old self could have spent hours mythologizing over, with its surreal mishmash of striking imagery that's equally likely to be full of hidden meaning or full of crap. Damn, they just don't make them like this anymore.
Leisurely, long-awaited fourth from Canadian psych rockers. If all acts were as accurately named as Vancouver’s Black Mountain, Sam Smith would go by the moniker Innocuously Nasal and Florence + The Machine would be called Pagan Tinnitus.. ADVERTISING inRead invented by Teads.
If you believe what you read in a lot of the music press, rock music is in the doldrums. But that would only seem to be the case in finding breakthrough acts, for as a genre it remains in the rudest of health, fueled by acts who can seemingly go on for ever, using the football model to transfer their singers between line-ups. At this rate AC/DC will still be going when we’re long finished.
Four. Yeah, that’s quaint. Led Zeppelin didn’t label their fourth album with a proper title, either, cos by that time they figured they were so godlike that their albums would practically sell themselves. Time proved them right – that’s the one with 'Stairway to Heaven', after all – but a classic rock revivalist band like Black Mountain can’t possibly expect the same reception.
You could probably guess roughly what Black Mountain sound like from the cover of their fourth album, which features, variously, a mysterious helmeted/masked figure, a little girl playing, a flaming plinth and Concorde. It’s time to set the controls for the heart of a pagan, doomy 1970s, where spacey synthesisers combine with doomy metallic riffs, and you can just about pick out the band through the haze of weed smoke. But maybe you need the haze of weed smoke to get the most of it: IV lacks the intense attack of the group’s very best work.
When you name your album “IV,” you’re risking some lofty comparisons: “Led Zeppelin IV,” “Faust IV,” “Gap Band IV,” even Black Sabbath’s “Vol. 4” if you bend the rules. It’s the sort of title that will destroy a lesser band’s chances of a fair review. But if you’re Black Mountain, well, those are the comparisons you deserve.
Stephen McBean knows a thing or two about making albums. Not a series of songs, but an album as a complete work, the way musicians used to make them in, say, the 70s, the era from which McBean and his Black Mountain cohorts most frequently draw their inspiration. Since the Vancouver-formed five-piece's inception in 2004, they've been on a mission to make psychedelic classic rock for a new generation, and their fourth album reveals the breadth of the genre.
If Black Sabbath, MC5, and Can were the trailblazers hacking at the roots and vines at the edges of the early ‘70s rock landscape, Black Mountain are the paver laying asphalt over their tracks. Their latest, IV, is an album that stoners and psych-heads of all stripes should be able to agree on this year. From the band’s hometown of Vancouver, frontman Stephen McBean moved to Los Angeles around the same time as Black Mountain released their last album, Wilderness Heart.
Haunting, staccato organ opens Black Mountains' fourth LP, after which "Mothers of the Sun" erupts elemental guitar crunch and a supersonic solo, and genre-bender "You Can Dream" mops psych doom with synth-popped pulses. In a thoughtful, albeit morbid, rendezvous recount, "Cemetery Breeding," the Vancouver quintet explores well beyond by-the-book psych rock. Stephen McBean and Amber Webber's vocals instantly hook, the latter's lungs emitting as unique and mighty as Grace Slick.
Black Mountain — IV (Jagjaguwar)When you name a heavy rock record IV, as Black Mountain has, you’re going to raise some ghosts. Zeppelin’s explosive, psychedelic boogie landmark certainly comes to mind, never more than in the giddy riffs of “Florian Saucer Attack,” while Black Sabbath’s IV spiralling blues-licks and crusted vamps also haunt the backdrop, especially in the long freaked out coda to “Mothers of the Sun. ” Even if the name is not so much a reference as an indicator that, hey, there were three albums before this one, the title has its own resonance – gnarled and blues-based, amplified and tripped out and definitely classic rock.