Alright. Finally getting around to polishing off part 2 of this review, where I deconstruct the new Black Mountain, Wilderness Heart.
First and foremost, this is a much more straight-ahead Rock record than their previous works, Druganaut and In the Future. Those albums possessed a fondness for the hazy, drugged-out side of many Velvet Underground releases and some funkier 60’s and 70’s Psychedelia. I mean it, too, when I say ‘funkier’ as many of their earlier songs featured a rhythm section that got into the swing while also rocking out. Kiss that Black Mountain goodbye…for the most part.
The album opens with “The Hair Song” that hangs its hat squarely on the Led Zeppelin peg of the hat rack. Some of the guitar riff touches are straight out of Zep’s playbook and the drummer (Josh Wells) hammers away like he’s still trying to exorcise the ghost of John Bonham through hours and hours in the studio. Yet, for all its referential sounds paying tribute to Zep’, it fits. The song kicks ass. Not only does it rock, but the dueling vocals of Stephen McBean and Amber Webber have never sounded better in their tonal qualities and harmonizing. Webber, in my mind, really steps out of the shadow of Grace Slick she’d hid in for a couple of albums to become her own, unique and stellar vocal talent. She utilizes vibrato with the wisest restraint, but imbues those fluctuations with full emotional range.
I also appreciate how Black Mountain has refused to abandon their heavy reliance on charred keyboard and synthesizer sounds, as is evidenced all over the album, but most clearly and reassuringly on “Old Fangs”. This is, coincidentally, the funkiest tune on the record as well, as Wells sits back in the pocket of the groove instead of charging ahead at the full speed and heft of Bonham. In fact, this tune sounds as if it were a refugee from the In the Future sessions. While researching a bit of background info on this album, it appears they employed some new production minds, including D. Sardy who’s worked with Nine Inch Nails, among others.
No song captures new production influences as lucidly as “Roller Coaster”. McBean’s vocals sound so Reznor-esque that I am occasionally transported to a lost song from The Downward Spiral. He sings with that aching melancholy and shyness that made Trent Reznor so famously despicable and lovable to so many. It’s a divisive quality to his singing approach, but McBean culls the best of Trent with his own stylings to make “Roller Coaster” a haunting dirge of a rock song.
The quizzical side to this album is that it is simultaneously faster, rockier and yet slower and sadder. The latter is manifest perfectly on “Buried By the Blues”, which falls down the slow descent of a Rock Mandelbrot Set of airy keys and slowly strummed acoustic guitar.
Overall, this is a solid record, but I am often put off by the regression to displaying influences so openly (even Black Sabbath gets more than a mere nod here), instead of pushing forth with the directions in Psychedelia that they’d forged on In the Future. I’m completely aware of how annoying the ‘their older material is superior’ argument is (Sonic Youth fans anybody?!?), but in the case of Wilderness Heart, it is completely correct and valid.
You won’t tire of this album immediately, probably as a direct consequence of how sporadically you’ll even think to put it on.