BLACK MOUNTAIN: IV (2016)
1) Mothers Of The Sun; 2) Florian Saucer Attack; 3) Defector; 4) You Can Dream; 5) Constellations; 6) Line Them All Up; 7) Cemetery Breeding; 8) (Over And Over) The Chain; 9) Crucify Me; 10) Space To Bakersfield.
A six-year period from 2010 to 2016 actually seems shorter these days than, say, a three-month period from July to September 1969 — therefore, do not get mad at Black Mountain just because they have been twiddling their thumbs all this time. (Technically, they did not: for instance, Amber Webber and Joshua Wells, who'd already released two «synth-folk» or «indietronica» albums as Lightning Dust in the 2000s, used the interval to make a third one — but do not rush to check them out, unless you are very much in love with Amber's wobbly voice and Joshua's antiquated electronic keyboards). At least this gave them a chance to scrape together some moments of real inspiration — I mean, let's face it, a musician only really should work when he or she feels like it, and if they only feel like it every six years or so, well, this kind of looks like a plus in the modern world.
Anyway, no title this time, just a small, barely visible Roman number, which might lead one to suspect they are taking their cue from Led Zeppelin here, and indirectly claim that this album will go down in history as containing their most immortal classics. In reality, this is just another Black Mountain album that offers no significant deviations from the old sound. They did have one membership change — Arjan Miranda replaces Matthew Camirand on bass — but other than that, they're still the same gloomy-idealistic neo-hippie band with a love for crushing Seventies' riffs, psychedelic haze, and messages in bottles reaching your 21st century shores from a past so distant, you'd have to spend your entire evening wondering just exactly in what way is this kind of sound and attitude supposed to be relevant. Then, out of sheer frustration, you'd just have to leave it be and simply enjoy the album for what it is rather than for what it could do to you.
The best news is that you can still rely upon them to bring out a decent (if thoroughly derivative) riff out of non-existence, or to put together some thick distorted guitar, some muscular drums, and a retro-futuristic synth pattern and make it all sound cool and credible. McBean and Webber distribute most of the lead vocals between themselves, like they usually do, and Webber once again takes the cake — for more than ten years now, she has sounded like a banshee apprentice that can never make it past the first grade, but now that we've got used to that, came to realize that she will probably stay in that mold forever, and dropped all further expectations... well, «perennial banshee apprentice» doesn't sound too bad, really.
She does a damn good job on the Hawkwind-ish rocker ʽFlorian Saucer Attackʼ, actually, where her usually shaky voice makes a huge effort to break through the thick wall of speedy metal riffage and wild Moogs, and, for once, she almost sounds like an overhyped Amazon princess; and the same combination of a quasi-military attitude with doom-and-gloom is heard on ʽConstellationsʼ, where she easily outsings McBean and adds proper attitude and feeling to the song's somewhat simplistic and silly-sounding four-note riff (which seems like a deconstructed version of Led Zeppelin's ʽDancing Daysʼ or some other song like that). Out of McBean's shorter numbers, ʽDefectorʼ is a good one, though, again, it will probably draw inevitable comparisons — this time, to Pink Floyd's ʽYoung Lustʼ, with which it shares a general «nasty» attitude and the chorus ("and now I wanna be a defector" sort of sounds like "ooh I need a dirty woman", doesn't it?), except that Black Mountain's music is almost totally devoid of sexuality (not that Floyd's wasn't, either — ʽYoung Lustʼ was a sarcastic parody).
However, the record in general rests on three 8-minute long pivots — everything else feels unsubstantial in comparison to the «epic» numbers. ʽMothers Of The Sunʼ combines a monster Sabbath riff with Webber's organ-accompanied doomsday prayer, and is almost surprisingly efficient: as hard as it is for me these days to fall under the «doomsday spell» coming from any of the new bands, Black Mountain have by now soaked themselves so thoroughly in the spirits of their ancestors that sometimes they seem to be possessed by these spirits, and that might just be the only proper way to get a convincing doomsday attitude today. Compared to this, ʽ(Over And Over) The Chainʼ is a bit of a disappointment, a track closer in spirit to the Gothic cathedral of The Cure — but with a long long long keyboard intro that evokes memories of ʽShine On You Crazy Diamondʼ. Yet it is neither as sublimely textured as the Floyd epic, nor as perfectly overlaid with waves of depressed guitars and tortured vocals as the best stuff by the Cure, and seems way overlong. Well, in terms of build-up and bring-down it needs the length, but they are not as good at generating atmosphere with vast soundscapes as they are with concise riffage.
On the other hand, maybe they are when they really put their minds to it: ʽSpace To Bakersfieldʼ is quite a haunting conclusion, ending the album on as much of a high note as ʽMothers Of The Sunʼ started it. This time, it's like a joint tribute to ʽSpace Oddityʼ, with its haunting allegory of absolute loneliness, and ʽComfortably Numbʼ, with its musical marriage of celestial bliss and psychological terror. Here, the tune unwraps slowly and patiently, lulling you with velvety synth tapestries (Schmidt uses ABBA's ʽEagleʼ synth tone to put you high up in the sky), soft vocal harmonies, and minimalistic guitar effects for about five minutes, after which McBean slowly starts to unveil his best guitar solo on the record and maybe the best of his entire career — a choking, wobbly wah-wah wail the likes of which I remember previously hearing mostly on those drug-soaked Bardo Pond records. It might not be a particularly great guitar solo per se, but it feels supercool emerging out of the «celestial» part of the song and burying it underneath its acid fire for a couple minutes.
Overall, six years of waiting have not resulted in a major masterpiece, but they have resulted in Black Mountain managing to sound conservative and fresh at the same time, and that's the only thing that matters — personally, I'm pleased as heck to award them their fourth thumbs up in a row just for managing to stay so consistent. Not all the songs are equally nice (a few acoustic clunkers like ʽCrucify Meʼ are neither atmospheric nor hooky enough), and you could probably trim some fat off the 56-minute running length quite easily, but as far as imaginative trips down memory lane are concerned, IV is among the best ones I've heard in the last few years — not that it would do a lot of difference to anyone, since it sort of feels like Black Mountain have pretty much squandered away their entire fanbase in these six years. (Heck, as of July 2016, there's still no one around to even get this record its own Wikipedia page!).