If you believe what you read in a lot of the music press, rock music is in the doldrums. But that would only seem to be the case in finding breakthrough acts, for as a genre it remains in the rudest of health, fueled by acts who can seemingly go on for ever, using the football model to transfer their singers between line-ups. At this rate AC/DC will still be going when we’re long finished.
Black Mountain appear set on a similar course of longevity, and they have the considerable advantage of having essentially retained the same line-up. Steadily they have clocked up more than a decade in rock, yet, as the title of their latest album indicates, they have only released four albums in that time. No matter, for they have a core following both in their home city of Vancouver and worldwide, their reputation built on a classic blueprint of Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath, but with music that moves far and wide in scope.
So far, so good – and from the start of IV it would appear we are in for more of the same. Mothers Of The Sun is confidently poised, a sonic treat with solemn organ, full bass and – eventually – the punch of a guitar that hits between the eyes three and a half minutes in. Co-vocalist Amber Webber finds a moody tone, and the whole track – all eight and a half minutes of it – makes a powerful impression despite its sprawling structure.
Yet therein lies the problem with the band’s approach. Sonically they are never less than pleasing, but there are three tracks on IV that veer towards the 10-minute mark, and inevitably they dominate proceedings. The vast Space To Bakersfield, with which the album ends, never really gets off the ground despite its moody discourse, enjoying its homage to Funkadelic’s Maggot Brain. (Over and Over) The Chain is more effective, and after lying suspended in the middle it hits an impressive riff and stays with it.
Previously the band have managed large structures with ease – take Tyrants from 2008 album In The Future for instance – but here there is a lot of ‘interlude’ involved, with some satisfying textures that impress and occasionally charm, but which have a lack of continuous focus. Far greater definition is found in the direct Florian Saucer Attack, a call to arms powered by an excellent synth riff and some great vocals, Webber and Stephen McBean sparring effectively. It is however the exception rather than the rule.
Elsewhere the band deliver a Gothic romance in the form of Cemetery Bleeding, talking of “fucking in the graveyard” before proclaiming, “I love you forever”. Again Webber and McBean harmonise to good effect, but there is a dark twist to the tail in the recollection that “for the first time I thought I had died…I was dreaming of suicide”. It is an oddly glamorous statement, and strangely unsatisfying. The grubby riff to Constellations is more like it, though the vocals are quite far back in the mix.
If this sounds like an over-critical assessment, it is done in the context of the band’s previous album successes In The Future and Wilderness Heart, both of which are magnificent rock creations built on riffs aplenty and the obvious ability to switch between tempo and musical style.
For one of Black Mountain’s principal strengths is that they don’t just create rock music, they use a lot of different styles alongside it, complementing and contrasting. Unfortunately on IV they lose their essential focus, giving us plenty of style but rather less content. Perhaps the clue lies in the cover, where Concorde flies over a green lawn with a burning water feature. Striking, yes, but not ultimately making complete sense.