It's always a bit sad when once-promising buzz bands get stuck in the mud. Black Mountain, it seems, has become one of those groups. Their first album was a thrilling mix of lazy Rolling Stones/Velvet Underground pop and straight-up Black Sabbath worship, but boasting a male/female vocal dynamic that rock hadn't really embraced much since the days of Jefferson Airplane. Singer Amber Webber possessed a bone-chilling voice that sounded like she was probably off bringing a witchy cauldron to a boil between takes, and leader Stephen McBean complemented her plaintive singing with his own heavy-lidded shamanic energy. It was good stuff. Add to that the heavy, groovy drums of Joshua Wells and a lot of cool riffs and spacey atmospheric parts, and the Black Mountain stew was a potent dish.
But something happened on the way to immortality - the band's third disc, "Wilderness Heart," wasn't much of a follow-up to the monolithic "In the Future," and then the group took six years to put out the album "IV," which didn't feel very different from its predecessor, except that it seemed even less essential. These things happen, often for reasons that are imperceptible to the general public. Who knows what was wrong, but it eventually led to Webber and Wells' departure.
For many, this news came alongside the announcement of Black Mountain's new "Destroyer" album and surely led directly to a mix of pleased interest mixed with displeased consternation. A new Black Mountain album sounds like a fine proposition, but one without the haunted vocals of Webber and the swing of Wells' drums felt like it couldn't be anything but the equivalent of one of those Aerosmith albums with Jimmy Crespo replacing Joe Perry.
Truthfully, it's not that bad. As far as rock albums go, it's solidly OK. But it continues the band's slide into pointlessness, only now without the key alchemical elements that made it special in the first place. The band's flavors used to mean that they were fun to listen to even when their songs failed them. Here, the flavors are all mixed up, unfamiliar, and not so complimentary. It's all chocolate and rubber tires. Vanilla and pennies.
Of course, Webber's absence is the big hole in this record. There's even something aggravating about it, especially in an era where women are finally starting to get a bit of credit for tolerating a bunch of idiotic dudes for the last, y'know, several thousand years. How did McBean just decide that Webber could be replaced with a new woman with a powerful voice, as if he only needed to fill a role? Rachel Fannan of the band Sleepy Sun is Webber's replacement, and she does fine. But she's not the same person. She's Jimmy Crespo.
There's a moment in "High Rise," four songs deep into the record, where Fannan begins making orgasm sounds and then starts wailing like she's looking to assert herself, but she just sounds like an awkward interloper doing an impression. At the end, she's left alone to sing the words "into heaven" repeatedly, and it's actually sort of annoying. She's miscast, somehow.
Three guest drummers fill in for Wells, and they all do fine. They're less of a problem, but there's a disjointed feeling to "Destroyer" that isn't helped by the lack of uniformity in the band's rhythm section. Or the claustrophobic production, which sucks all the life out of the music in favor of squashing it all into one big, loud ball.
To put it bluntly, this version of Black Mountain is a shell of its former self. The record isn't bad, it's just sort of a pointless attempt to salvage something that's already lost.
Artist: Black Mountain
Produced by: John Congleton
Personnel: Stephen McBean (vocals, guitar), Rachel Fannan (vocals), Arjan Miranda (bass), Adam Bulgasem (drums), Jeremy Schmidt (keyboards), others