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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