Music Review: Black Mountain – IV

It’s not often I get to listen to new material by two bands I really like in the same month. I only happened to stumble across this release by chance since I went into a shop and browsed through their record selection and just saw it sitting there.

I remember when I went into that shop years ago and blindly bought Black Mountain’s second album In The Future, just on the basis that I liked the cover. Back then I did stuff like buying albums blindly, just because I thought the visual aspect might give some clue as to how the album ought to sound. And in this case, In The Future sounded exactly as psychedelic and stonery as the cover indicated. A few years later their third album Wilderness Heart became one of my favorites and ended up taking more spins in my stereo than just about any other album. It’s one of those very few completely perfect albums I own, where I’d literally not change a single thing. You know, like Pink Floyd’s Animals, Dark Side Of The Moon and Wish You Were Here.

But Wilderness Heart also showcased a slight departure from the psychedelic influences into more of a hard rock / metal sounding sphere. Which I greatly enjoyed, I really liked the thick guitars and the overall more aggressive tone. But with this new offering, Black Mountain have gone back to their psychedelic roots. There aren’t that many greatly distorted guitars to be found on IV and when they’re here, they take far greater cues from the 60’s than ever before. Coupled with the synthesizers that both sound like prime cut 70’s cheese and glorious 80’s goodness, the music presents a blend of sounds that’s wholly unique.

The reason I say this is because the album never sounds like it’s deliberately aping past eras in music. There are tons of bands that are functionally tribute bands to the 60’s, 70’s or 80’s, but they all sound modern. IV sounds vintage, aged and completely and utterly old from day one. And that’s a very good thing. It indicates that these guys and that gal aren’t struggling to create the sound they make. It comes naturally. It has to. Otherwise, the blend of sounds wouldn’t work as well as they do.

Overall it’s a lot calmer than even In The Future was, oftentimes eschewing drums and distorted guitars and relying solely on an ambient backing track serving as a background for the vocals. The vocals were always one of my favorite aspects of the band, since it’s one of those few bands that actually has two vocalists. And I’m not saying there’s a lead vocalist and the rest of the band sing the back-up voices.

Stephen McBean and Amber Webber share equal screen time and complement each other very nicely. Stephen has quite a raspy voice, suited well for the lower registers he usually occupies. Amber has a much softer voice by comparison. While she did evolve over the years and obviously gained some confidence – if you listen to In The Future, you’ll hear some lines in there where you can almost hear her stage fright – she still manages to sound as angelic as ever.

If there’s one thing I’d have to criticize, it’s just that overall I liked the more aggressive tone of Wilderness Heart more than the more laid back music presented on IV. That’s not to say that any of it is bad, I can see myself leaning back and enjoying this album quite a lot, especially in the evening when I get home, tired from work. Just lying in bed with some headphones on and listening to this album sounds like a joyous experience. But at heart, I’m just too much a fan of louder, more aggressive music to claim that IV will replace Wilderness Heart as one of my most played albums.

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