Black Mountain mix comic keys into smoldering doom rock on raucously fun, exploratory ‘IV’

Photo by Magdalena Wosinska

Photo by Magdalena Wosinska

There’s a lot of music that transcends heavy metal. Or flows into it. Actually, both things work. I’ve struggled at times figuring out what music I want to feature here, and now and again I face that dilemma of whether something belongs on a metal site. Well, consider this the year we ignore those boundaries.

There is a lot of music out there that might not fit under the metal umbrella in a record store or in someone’s heads, but that’s not our problem. Because of that, we’re discussing “IV,” the unbelievably fun new record from Canadian doom rockers Black Mountain, an album that can find favor among metal fans who are insatiably addicted to Sabbath, but also a band such as Zombi. See, on this, their fourth record, the band extends beyond our atmosphere and rockets to the stars, drizzling their music with blippy, spacey synth, and keeping things loose and fun. There are three cuts that go beyond the eight-minute mark on this 10-track album, and those are the ones that make the drone and ambiance cells within your body ignite with energy.

BlackMountain_IV_AlbumArtBlack Mountain have been out doing their thing for 12 years now. They released their self-titled debut record in 2005, and from its success, they landed a tour opening for … Coldplay. Yeah, that’s the first time Coldplay ever has been mentioned on this site. Having witnessed that tour, I can say with no bias that Black Mountain ruled the day (at least here in Pittsburgh), and from there, they continued their assault. “In the Future” showed up in 2008, with “Wilderness Heart” arriving two years later, and now it’s been six years since we last got a full-length from the band—guitarist/vocalist Stephen McBean (also of Pink Mountaintops), vocalist Amber Webber (also of Lightning Dust), bassist Colin Cowan, keyboardist Jeremy Schmidt, and drummer/keyboardist Joshua Wells. Black Mountain also have released some EPs and the 2012 “Year Zero” soundtrack, but here is where they truly excel.

“Mother of the Sun” starts the record, an 8:34-long boiler that begins with synth pumps, noise slowly sliding in, and Webber and McBean trading vocals, with the latter urging, “Let’s come together upon heaven’s ground.” There are psychedelically buzzing guitars, a great dose of soloing, and a key sheen that takes the song out. “Florian Saucer Attack” is a super fun one, with Webber wailing with authority over Cars-ish synth and the group chanting out, “Zero, one, data, one, two, one, two,” on the chorus. “Defector” brings things down into mid-tempo, with spacey keys blurting, an easier pace settling, and call of, “I want to be a defector,” punching into the UFO mission. “You Can Dream” settles into key blips, warm guitars, and the repeated invitation of, “Come on, baby, dream,” rattling around in your head all day long. The song is both freeing and defiant, especially when McBean demands, “Learn to kick when they tell you to cry.” “Constellations” sounds like a punchy ’80s rocker, with edgy riffs, more thick synth, and Webber wailing, “Don’t get outta your head while we’re off losing our minds.” Really fun.

“Line Them Up” changes the pace, with acoustics rising, and a gentler tone taking hold, with Webber’s dreamy vocals leading the way. It’s the ideally placed spot where you can catch your breath, and it gets you ready for “Cemetery Breeding,” the poppiest song on the record, and arguably the best. McBean handles this one, breeding death amid his longing, with him darkly noting, “When you looked in my eyes, I was dreaming of suicide.” The chorus will stick in your head for days and days. “(Over and Over) The Chain” runs 8:49, with a long haze stretching over the front end, cosmic keys trickling in, and hypnotic singing that massages your brain. Keys glimmer while guitars melt over everything, and the final moments swim amongst the planets and moon, giving off an eerie edge. “Crucify Me” also is built on acoustics, a slower song that again brings your heart rate back down, with McBean’s line of, “Stuck a needle in my eye, wondering if you could be my love,” giving off the proper amount of pain with the serenity. The 9:05-long closer “Space to Bakersfield” gives you everything you need to know right from the title. Keys simmer in psyche soup, with McBean singing and the track taking its time burning its connection. “Are you listening?” is repeated on loop, a question of awareness amid this long, extended rocket ship jam session that lets your mind tingle and wander beyond your own boundaries.

Loud and raucous, chilled out and cosmic, Black Mountain meld the heavy and serene together like few others. They have a loud hippie charm to what they do, but you also could sense they crave to explore beyond this realm on “IV.” This record finds Black Mountain staying true to their roots, but also refusing to paint by numbers or deny their exploratory whims.

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