Destroyer, 180G White Vinyl LP
Like a bitchin’ phoenix airbrushed on the side of a tricked-out ’78 Dodge B200 van, Black Mountain is a band always in the process of being reborn. Turnover has been almost constant in the metal outfit’s 15-year history, with each album boasting a slightly different lineup. Founding members Joshua Wellsand Amber Webber left the group in 2016, shortly after the release of their fourth album, handily titled IV. That leaves frontman/chief songwriter Stephen McBean and keyboard player Jeremy Schmidt as the sole founding members, and that makes it all the more tempting to label this something like a solo project, one whose mission is to realize one man’s vision of heavy rock in the new millennium. But the remarkable thing is how much Black Mountain remains a band, how vital each member’s contributions are. What in the early 2010s looked like it might be a one-note project has pulled out of the skid to redefine itself and its relationship to crunch and riff.
Conceived and sequenced as a soundtrack to an epic desert road trip, Destroyer introduces a new gang of Black Mountaineers, most of whom are actually replacing Webber. That includes one singer, Rachel Fannan of Sleepy Sun, and three drummers: Adam Bulgasem of Dommengang, Kliph Scurlock formerly of the Flaming Lips, and Kid Millions from Oneida. Their version of the band has a lot less boogie but a lot more swamp, a lot more Frank Frazetta fantasy, a lot more majestic doom. As on IV, Jeremy Schmidt stands out as a co-writer and arranger, and his synths taunt McBean’s sludgy guitars, adding friction to the gnashing opener “Future Shade” and dystopian menace to “Closer to the Edge.”
As befits a band that imagines a Ballard-esque tower block as “the loneliest cock in the sky,” this version of Black Mountain have a healthy sense of the ridiculous, which is food of the gods where heavy guitars roam. McBean can deliver a line like, “One thousand horses form in a Flying V” with no smirk of irony and no Darkness-style in-joke. On one of the album’s gnarliest moments, he ends “Pretty Little Lazies” with a coda of menacing, tortured la la la’s, each one sounding more regurgitated than sung, his voice distorted with metal poisoning, like Zardoz puking up an arsenal of assault rifles. -Pitchfork