Black Mountain aren’t an especially original band. In their bleary burn, you can hear bits and pieces of Black Sabbath, of Spacemen 3, of Royal Trux, of X, and of about a million unheralded psych-metal wanderers who walked the earth during the 1970s. And they’re not a particularly versatile band, either. They have, more or less, one note, and they hit slight variations on it over and over again. But when Black Mountain are on, there’s not a single band on this planet that makes me feel the way they do. And on IV, their new album, they are on throughout. IV is, to be sure, an album of retro fuzz-boogie. But that style is done with a grand, expansive sense of vision that no other band right now can hope to match.
IV is Black Mountain’s first proper album since 2010’s Wilderness Heart, which means they’ve been away for longer than LCD Soundsystem. But it doesn’t feel like it. They did, after all, come back together to record the score to the movie Year Zero, even if that soundtrack album consisted largely of older, previously released Black Mountain songs. And the members of the band have been busy with side projects, most of which have been pretty good and one of which — Get Back, frontman Stephen McBean’s 2014 LP with Pink Mountaintops — has been outright awful. (Meanwhile, Pink Mountaintops’ 2009 album Outside Love remains one of the great underrated rock albums of this century. You never know what you’re going to get with that guy.) Because we’ve heard so much from Black Mountain-affiliated acts, it’s been weirdly easy to take them for granted and to forget what can happen when the band is back together, operating at full strength. It’s easy, that is, until you get maybe 30 seconds into IV. Then you remember.
The opening seconds of IV feel like a thrown gauntlet. Wilderness Heart had pushed the strummy, folky campfire-singalong aspects of their sound, but IV takes off in the exact opposite direction. “Mothers Of The Sun,” the first song on IV, stretches out to eight and a half minutes, and it opens with a ghostly analog synth panting in your ear. But just as soon as that tense calm is established, a gargantuan fuzz-riff thunders in, flattening everything around it. The song builds and builds, taking full advantage of singer Amber Webber’s incantatory moon-priestess presence and McBean’s zoned-out drawl, which cannot be native to Vancouver. The song rolls on like a huge, overwhelming machine. Even with its sprawling length and screaming guitar solos, it never wastes motion. Instead, it pushes spaceward, finding a monolithic stoner-rock grandeur that nobody else at this late date is even attempting.
The rest of the album continues like that, like a rocket that’s aimed itself directly at the sun. “Florian Saucer Attack” sounds a bit like Motörhead and a bit like Brad Fiedel’s Terminator score. “You Can Dream” is an inspirational anarchist anthem — “no masters, no gods,” Webber and McBean chant — powered by cult-congregation harmonies and vocoder drones and effects-pedal sustain. “Constellations” is a living reminder that cowbell-driven Camaro-rockers don’t have to be earthbound. The half-acoustic “Line Them All Up” is like a futuristic hymn about the death of our own culture. It all leads up to the nine-minute closer, “Space to Bakersfield,” a woozy nod-out jam that demands its own planetarium laser-light show.
If you’ve seen Black Mountain live, you know that they’re legit burnouts — a crew of scabby shamblers who have been known to miss shows (shout out to the Hold Steady’s Separation Sunday release party) — just because they forgot to show up. The first time I saw them live, they kept inviting various drunk Canadians — there were lots of drunk Canadians in the audience, even though the show wasn’t in Canada — to play tambourines. They’re real heshers, not record-collector nerds doing their best to embody the old hesher stereotype. But they’re also, in their way, record-collector nerds, rock dudes who have been around long enough to study the way the genre works. McBean is a middle-aged ex-punk, a guy old enough to have had his mind blown when Black Flag started playing slow on My War. He understands the power of scummy, gritty noise and of soaring, starry-eyed majesty. I don’t know if IV is a better album than Black Mountain’s insta-classic self-titled 2005 debut; there aren’t too many rock albums that have come out in the 21st century that I like more than that one. But IV is probably the most Black Mountain of all Black Mountain’s albums. It’s the one that shows us where this band’s heart is. This band’s heart is in space.
IV is out 4/1 on Jagjaguwar. Stream it below.
Other albums of note out this week:
• Weezer’s better-than-it-had-to-be self-titled White Album.
• Yeasayer’s astral rock return Amen & Goodbye.
• Young Thug’s gibbering, twinkling Slime Season 3.
• Explosions In The Sky’s internally soaring The Wilderness.
• The Last Shadow Puppets’ tuneful orchestral-rock return Everything You’ve Come To Expect.
• The Field’s minimal, meditative The Follower.
• Bleached’s fuzzily catchy Welcome The Worms.
• Frankie Cosmos’ lo-fi, intimate Next Thing.
• Tacocat’s spirited pop-punker Lost Time.
• Andrew Bird’s tastefully wracked Are You Serious.
• Operators’ sketchy synth-rocker Blue Wave.
• Japanese Breakfast’s bright, inventive indie-popper Psychopomp.
• Moderat’s cerebral dance LP III.
• Autolux’s brightly brooding Pussy’s Dead.
• Terrance Martin’s rapwise jazz move Velvet Portraits.
• Pet Shop Boys’ grown-man dance-popper Super.
• Bibio’s fearlessly cheesed-out A Mineral Love.
• John Congleton And The Nighty Nite’s carefully produced Until The Horror Goes.
• Charles Bradley’s scraped, weathered soul LP Changes.
• SBTRKT’s mysterious surprise release SAVE YOURSELF.
• Iamsu!’s homespun party-rap thumber Kilt 3.
• Mogwai’s documentary soundtrack Atomic.
• Mike And The Melvins’ toothy sludge-rocker Three Men And A Baby.
• Ash Koosha’s tranquil electronic album I AKA I.
• Audacity’s garage-punk rave-up Hyper Vessels.
• Music Band’s sunny rocker Wake Up Laughing.
• Air side project Starwalker’s self-titled debut.
• Tancred’s distorted, feelings-jangled Out Of The Garden.
• Nisennenmondai’s bright, dubby #N/A.
• Ryan Vail’s electro-classical debut For Every Silence.
• Kyson’s electronic and dreamlike A Book Of Flying.
• Cheap Trick’s late-career power-popper Bang, Zoom, Crazy…Hello.
• Teen Suicide’s lo-fi, rambunctious It’s The Big Joyous Celebration, Let’s Stir The Honeypot.
• Moonsorrow’s old-school black metaller Jumalten Aika.
• Fool’s Gold’s Night Shift compilation.
• Oddisee’s Al Wasta EP.
• Willis Earl Beal’s Through The Dark EP.
• Tombs’ All Empires Fall EP.
• Antwon’s Double Ecstasy EP.
• Piss Vortex’s Future Cancer EP.
• Com Truise’s Silicon Tear EP.
• Darq E. Freaker’s ADHD EP.
• Roof Doctor’s My Band EP.
• Ladada’s Hi Five EP.