Album Review: Black Mountain – In the Future

So back in January of this year, Black Mountain released a new album, In the Future.  I vaguely remember reading the Pitchfork review, and I vaguley remember it being pretty good, but somehow I missed picking up the album.  I owned their self-titled debut, and I had mixed feelings about it, but overall, I enjoyed the record.  It sat in rotation in my CD player for a good few months, and then it went back into the case, where I pretty much forgot about it except when the random track would shuffle through on my iPod. 

My biggest problem with the first record was that I found it a bit all over the place.  Opening track “Modern Music,” with its saxophone and call and response shuffle was catchy, but it didn’t at all seem to fit in with the album as a whole.  The same can be said of fourth track “No Satisfaction.”  These were fairly upbeat and poppy sing along tunes in the classic rock vein, but the rest of the record was far from that.  Songs such as “Don’t Run Our Hearts Around” and “Druganaut” are prog-metal epics that pay blatant homage to bands such as Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, and Pink Floyd, among others.  It didn’t help much that the album debuted right around the same timeframe as another band with a similar milieu: Wolfmother.  That’s a band you probably don’t want to be compared with too heavily.  However, it was obvious from Black Mountain’s compositional ability that they were light years ahead of Wolfmother.  Familiar, but not afraid to explore different territories.

I finally grabbed In the Future, and I have to say that Black Mountain have obliterated any doubts I had about their intentions.  Right from the start on opening track “Stormy High,” the band presents a lush, kick ass rock sound that leaves little doubt about their influences but also shows that they have taken their 70’s metal aesthetic to a new level.  Swirling female vocals, thundering guitar and bass, pulsing organs, and pounding drum rhythms immediately announce a more filled out sound.  Second track “Angels” is a more mellow affair, but still faithful to the feel of the rest of the record.  The next track, the eight minute “Tyrants,” begins with a driving rhythm similar to Floyd’s “One of These Days” before dropping off into a slow, eerie verse reminiscent of Zeppelin’s “No Quarter” and “Stairway to Heaven.”  It’s almost like playing “Spot the Influences” with this band, so infused is their music with familiar elements, but they really do make it sound their own. 

Also much more well utilized on this album is the vocal power of Amber Webber, who almost seemed an afterthought on the previous record.  Webber’s contributions to In the Future enhance the power of many of these songs and provide a nice foil to frontman Steve McBean’s howl.  It’s hard to keep your interest through the near seventeen minute psychedelic freakout of “Bright Lights,” but the rest of the songs on the album stay mostly around the five to six minute mark or below.  The mix of slow grooves and the heavier rock tracks also seems less disjointed and more cohesive than on their previous release.   

Overall, Black Mountain have successfully proved that they can still make the well-mined territory of psychedelic rock music feel somewhat fresh, even while conjuring visions of you sitting in your parents’ basement with the headphones on, the black light illuminating clouds of smoke as your mind drifts off to Middle Earth.  Is it derivative?  Of course, but it’s also a hell of a lot of fun. 

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