BLACK MOUNTAIN: WILDERNESS HEART (2010)
A funny thing happened to me on my way to summarizing Black Mountain's third album, ladies and gentlemen: I was all set to start talking about its subtle differences from Black Mountain's first and second albums, when I suddenly discovered I had entirely forgotten how Black Mountain's first and second albums actually sounded. They were heavy, melodic, and derivative, for sure, but the melodies? Were any of those songs actually worth anything? And will the songs from Wilderness Heart, which seem nice enough while they're still fresh, be worth anything in a few months' time? So many epic questions, so few trustworthy answers.
Anyway, it doesn't really matter. Perhaps the key to all this is that Black Mountain themselves do not think the world of their music. It is big and bombastic, not because the bombast is their musical translation of the «blow their minds once and for all» idea, as it used to be, but simply because their pet heroes, from Neil Young to Black Sabbath, all happened to be bombastic — a taste-related coincidence. Take 'Let Spirits Ride', for instance, whose riff is but a minor variation on Sabbath's proto-thrash classic 'Symptom Of The Universe'. When Tony Iommi wrote that riff, he laid it down with an inspired vengeance. When Black Mountain play it, they are simply showing their respect for the style. The loudness and brutality are there, for sure, but God-sent inspiration is not, reducing rock'n'roll to mannerism.
Don't get me wrong: while the songs are on, they're on. Third time around, the band does not take any unnecessary risks with extra-long tracks, and their influences are spread out in a very careful and deliberate manner, so that my earlier complaint about way too many Airplaneisms is no longer applicable at all. Psychedelia, hard rock, and folk combine in quasi-mathematical ways: for instance, if you divide the 10 songs into an imaginary A- and B-side (and you should: these guys only work in a vinyl day mood), the ratio is 4 heavy songs to 1 soft song on Side A and 4 soft songs to 1 heavy song on Side B.
The heavy riffs achieve their purposes, whether they be fake-heavy riffs (extra distortion laid on yer basic folk-rock pattern, as in 'Hair Song') or true-heavy riffs (the Sabbathisms of 'Let Spirits Ride' and the title track). They achieve them even better when attenuated by space-rock whoops from the band's Moog equipment ('Old Fangs') and wheezy, creaky psychedelic solos ('Rollercoaster'). Play it all at top volume, let your neighbours experience the kind of emotions their ancestors had in the old days of heavy metal arisal.
The romantic ballads never fall short, either. The acoustic guitar/Mellotron combo on 'Radiant Hearts' is evocative. 'Buried By The Blues', with its memorable (for now! I'm listening to it right now — cannot guarantee what will happen in the next three hours!) chorus of "Away from the static and noise", is a gently touching bit of escapism. 'Sadie' is just the kind of perfect conclusion for such an album: creepy dark folk, ominous for the sake of ominousness, with McBean's and Amber Webber's vocals merging perfectly for the chorus.
But it's all too calculated. More than ever before — maybe more than ever before, because, like I tell you, I already cannot recall a thing about Black Mountain's earlier records — I get this feeling that Black Mountain are simply trying to make that particular perfect record, that sincere gift of pity for aging baby boomers who think that punk rock and New Wave throttled good music and have searched, in vain, ever since 1975, for a time capsule. I do not surmise that such a record could not be made, of course, but Wilderness Heart proves, for the third time, that Black Mountain, despite all their professionalism and good intentions, are not the ideal band to make it. These songs all depart from old standards — respectable variations on old themes that are just it: variations. When you're sick to death of the old standards, you'll want to suck on the variations. For a while. Then you'll be back to the old standards. Or, in a flash of progressivism, push on to Animal Collective.
Nevertheless, I thoroughly enjoyed the album, and, like all Black Mountain records, past, present, and most likely future, it is a remorseless thumbs up. It is not up to me to decide if they really «live out» this music or not; I can only judge it on a simple basis — whether or not it bores me, whether or not it is awfully arranged or produced, and whether or not they stole all their melodies from Lenny Kravitz. Since Wilderness Heart is entertaining, tasteful, and about as original as a record of variations on classical subjects can be, why should I want to thwart anyone from exploring it? On the contrary — it is every good music lover's duty to convince that local teenage dummy neighbour that Black Mountain are at least cooler than... uhh... Justin Bieber?
Check "Wilderness Heart" (CD) on Amazon
Check "Wilderness Heart" (MP3) on Amazon