Black Mountain

Wilderness Heart

Setting the controls for the heart of the sun isn’t as easy a course to plot as one might think, especially when using the monolithic majesty of Black Sabbath or Pink Floyd’s psychedelic flights of fancy as the navigational tools of choice. And yet, in an age when received wisdom has it that pop has gone beyond eating itself by gorging on its bodily waste, Vancouver’s top groovers Black Mountain have consistently balanced the tightrope that divides inspiration and pastiche to create, if not necessarily a language of their own, then a vernacular that speaks volumes.

That Wilderness Heart arrives to a sense of anticipation should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with their previous two albums. However, that Black Mountain have jettisoned the more cosmic elements from their sound certainly does raise eyebrows and unlike its predecessors, this latest collection is low on extended workouts and – ahem – high on succinct nuggets that more often than not clock in at around the four-minute mark.

Tellingly, Black Mountain have employed the use of not one but two producers in the shape of Randall Dunn (a man who has twiddled knobs for the likes of colossal riff machine Kinski) and Oasis and Wolfmother helmsman Dave Sardy. While the cosmic quotient is rationed, the riffs are more streamlined and punchy while doffing their caps to the spirits of Led Zeppelin and the aforementioned Black Sabbath.

Indeed, the Sabbath debts are obvious. ‘Let Spirits Ride’ is the bastard child of ‘Symptom of the Universe’ while ‘Rollercoaster”s swamp-thick riffage and the head-banging glory of the title track are delightfully reassuring but, as exemplified by ‘Radiant Hearts’ and ‘Buried by the Blues’, there’s a bucolic splendour at work here that presents Black Mountain in a different light. The result is an album that’s gone for a more obvious classic rock sheen than what’s gone on before it and while this may result in the band shedding some of their more spaced out followers, it’s a tactic that sees them becoming anything but predictable.

Wilderness Heart is an album that stands apart from the two long players that came before it and the temptation to view this as a bridging album viz Led Zeppelin III is overwhelming. There’s a feeling of Black Mountain testing new waters as they discreetly re-group and consolidate what it is that makes them such a satisfyingly fearsome proposition. Hunker down people: there’s a mighty rain on its way.

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