Plumbiferous Media

Wilderness Heart – Black Mountain

Sep 16th 2010
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Wilderness Heart - Black MountainBlack Mountain
Wilderness Heart
Score: 75

Vancouver prog-rock band Black Mountain, founded in 2004, released their third LP, Wilderness Heart, on the 14th. Wilderness Heart is a bit of a departure from Black Mountain’s normal style, but the band manages the shift well. And so, on Wilderness Heart, Black Mountain continues to develop (and change) their indie-psych musical combination in a way that is, while certainly different from their efforts on 2008’s In the Future, quite interesting.

Wilderness Heart is, for better or worse, an almost entirely new sound for Black Mountain. The general instrumentation remains fairly similar (quite standard), but the style has shifted drastically. Much more of a rock album than the ambient, imaginative, and at times majestic In the Future, Black Mountain has effectively tossed out all that was good about In the Future for Wilderness Heart. But Wilderness Heart really is a good album. The instrumentals are constantly engaging, exciting, and still able to evoke powerful images, most notably on the very aptly named “Roller Coaster.”

Additionally, while clearly a prog-rock band, Black Mountain doesn’t really sound like many other progressive bands. Wilderness Heart interprets prog as rock, but with significantly more instrumental imagery, rather than aiming for expansive and often repetitive rock, or simply loud rock, as prog bands are prone to do more often than not. And repetitive is really the last word one would use to describe Wilderness Heart. No track lasts longer than it should, and every track displays an entirely new sound, almost to the point of having somewhat disconnected tracks.

Frontman Stephen McBean shares vocals on Wilderness Heart with Amber Webber (as with Black Mountain’s earlier work). McBean and Webber’s voices generally work together quite well, whether they’re sharing a melody or simply in contrast to each other across sections of a track. However, Black Mountain’s slight shift of style (less ambient, more rock) removes some of the vocalists’ presence, as they are forced to compete with somewhat harsher (and certainly louder) instrumentals. This doesn’t do a great deal of damage to Wilderness Heart‘s vocals, especially across the whole album. However, it does definitely decrease their importance somewhat, which, as they’re among the better elements of Wilderness Heart, is probably ill-advised.

The lyrics of Wilderness Heart don’t always make sense, but they do generally fit the music. Slightly abstract metaphorical lines such as “Let the sky be littered with radiant hearts / Waiting to guide you back home” are a fairly obvious match to Black Mountain’s psych/prog sound. On the whole, however, they don’t seem to mean all that much. That’s not so much of a surprise given that Wilderness Heart focuses more on imagery than meaning – but some meaning would improve the album.

Wilderness Heart is definitely not a perfect album. As an album that really does get better when it gets louder, there are far too many near-painfully slow tracks. That, among other smaller problems, does bog the album down quite a bit. But even still, there’s a lot to Wilderness Heart. Black Mountain deserves quite a bit of credit for changing sounds so abruptly and not completely going off the rails, both vocalists, however bogged down they may be, executed their parts quite successfully, and Wilderness Heart really is a very engaging album with a very large amount of content. It will certainly upset some and please others, but Wilderness Heart is undoubtedly a success.

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