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Black Mountain - Destroyer (Album Review)

Friday, 07 June 2019 Written by Graeme Marsh

Photo: Olivia Jaffe

Black Mountain’s fifth studio album, ‘Destroyer’, comes in the wake of line-up changes that threw the band’s future into doubt. Following the amicable departure of founding drummer Josh Wells and vocalist Amber Webber, Stephen McBean and Jeremy Schmidt began working on new music that might have eventually fallen under a new name. But that wasn’t to be.

The considerable void left by Wells’ exit has been filled by three drummers on the album, but Webber’s absence is more difficult to circumnavigate given her prominence as joint lead vocalist. To be able to nab someone as respected as Rachel Fannan (Sleepy Sun) as a replacement stands as an excellent move, but her contributions pale in comparison to Webber’s past work.

Here, Fannan’s vocals are relegated to a supporting role on a record that McBean has declared is inspired by his decision to get behind the wheel of a car in his late 40s.

Indulging in his new found love of driving with music blaring, self-imposed checkpoints to aim for included ZZ Top and Metallica, resulting in Black Mountain’s heaviest album to date.

Opener Future Shade bursts into life like an ear-bleeding juggernaut powering along the freeway, its thunderous riffage and thumping rhythm accompanied by trademark swirling keys. The thrill of adrenalin-fuelled speed also drives the pounding High Rise, as things get even heavier, while the self-explanatory Licensed To Drive goes even further into metal territory as the rush continues.

McBean was even seen restoring a classic 1985 Dodge Destroyer—cue album title inspiration—as his infatuation with blistering motors grew, and here Black Mountain’s underlying penchant for slower, terrific stoner rock is all but cast aside.

Boogie Lover bucks the trend, its monster riff propelling the track along in the slow lane for a welcome return to what McBean does best, while the excellent Horns Arising also belts out more brilliant guitar lines amid a sea of swirling keys, sounding like the proud lovechild of Hawkwind and Black Sabbath.

Pretty Little Lazies ups the psych by managing to come off like something from Radiohead’s ‘The Bends’ played by Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd, before powering off like a monster truck and being brought back under control by a Crosby, Stills and Nash-inspired piercing note. The strange hybrid FD72 closes the album, crafting what seems like another Radiohead moment (Creep, specifically) that quickly turns into a David Bowie tribute as McBean sings “the man who fell to Earth”.

Black Mountain’s core strengths remain the same, but with Webber departing and a heavier, thrill-seeking stance taken by McBean ‘Destroyer’ is different to what’s gone before. When the ride is over, expect a return to that slower, superb stoner-rock that they still excel at.

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