Black Mountain's third album represents the finest yield so far from the Vancouver band's relentless harvesting of rock and folk's 70s heyday. Wilderness Heart refuses to dive into unfamiliar territory, instead expertly blending heavy rock, smoky blues and finger-picked acoustic guitars across an album of tantalisingly layered songs.
There are still some frenetic surprises, especially Let Spirits Ride which leaps from buildings with its punkoid drive and galloping pace. But the heart of this album is the stark, jet-black core built around riffs carved from obsidian pillars. Bellowing organ drenches these brooding songs, giving them a cobwebbed and ominous air. Opening track The Hair Song sets the agenda with a slithering acoustic riff, steel slide backing, male and female harmonies, and a brief tangled psychedelic jam. It's all disarmingly upbeat though when compared to the haze that hangs over the following songs. Even the elegant Radiant Hearts, with its tender, teasing organ, has a melancholy march. The grinding bass of Roller Coaster works hesitant space into the grimy refrains and, as Amber Webber sings "I'll cradle you beneath my wings", the axis of distortion and fragile clarity spins freely, even if it veers close to soft rock cliche.
Wilderness Heart seems to represent the point where Black Mountain refine the melodic possibilities of their vocal performances upon the dominating, oppressive sound they've fused from familiar elements. Frankly, these songs are more memorable than some of the jam-orientated material of the past, though this is done without abandoning the captivating gravity of these roots by any means. There's ecstatic guitar screeching, pounding drums and a lot of shade within the light. There's far less meandering around themes when there is a point to be made, too. The argument against this is that there is less of the atmosphere that billowed through 2008's In the Future. But the title-track and the delicate yet eerie folk numbers such as Buried by the Blues and The Space of Your Mind suggest otherwise.
Rather than adhering to type, Black Mountain now have a catalogue of songs that respect and rival their influences.
- - -