Prepare to have your mind blown; IV is the fourth album from Canadian rockers Black Mountain. Bet you didn’t see that one coming. The ubiquity of albums and EPs titled IV makes one wish that the band’s keyboardist, Jeremy Schmidt, wasn’t joking when he said the group had bandied around the idea of calling the album “Our Strongest Material To Date”, which, by the by, would have been quite an apt title. For anyone not familiar with Black Mountain’s music, IV’s nonsensical cover art subtly announces the album’s psychedelic and stoner rock sensibilities but doesn’t provide any insights into the music beyond that.
It is difficult to imagine many bands choosing to open an album with an eight and a half minute mini-epic, but this is precisely what the opening track, Mothers Of The Sun, is. The first half of the song is subdued, built as it is around a single repeated tone, which leaves plenty of space for Amber Webber’s crystalline vocals, which features a hint of fragility as she shapes the end of each line with a subtle vibrato, to enter. Stephen McBean briefly lends his vocal delivery to this early section of the song, but his main contribution is reserved for delivering a big, dirty, 70’s classic rock guitar sound for the rock oriented second half. That this is also a single clearly demonstrate that Black Mountain are more concerned with delivering quality sonic-art than merely shifting units.
This tendency extends to ending IV with Space To Bakersfield, an expansive nine minute chill-out track that feels like it would best be listened to reclining in a beanbag, surrounded by lava-lamps, and smoking hand-rolled “herbal” cigarettes. Between Mothers Of The Sun and Space To Bakersfield, it certainly feels like Black Mountain are most at home engaging in extended compositions, and this feeling is further bolstered by standout track (Over And Over) The Chain, which spends the first three of its nearly nine minutes as organ drone, before McBean’s guitar kicks in with some satisfyingly dirty riffing, which signals for Joshua Wells to drive the remainder of the song with a driving percussion groove. McBean and Webber interlace their voices perfectly when delivering the minimal, but judiciously repetitious, lyrics which revolve around the lines “over and over” and “the clanging of chains”. It is a well executed nine minutes that is worth every second of the listener’s time.
IV is not all lengthy, repetitive, and drone-y compositions – though these are easily the strongest songs. Less patient listeners, and those with more traditional musical attention spans, have plenty to listen to with Florian Saucer Attack expending its synth-rock energy in under three and a half minutes, Constellation spending its four minutes delivering Queens of the Stone-Age-esque vibes, and the folky balladry of Line Them All Up. Throughout IV Black Mountain deliver retro-infused songs that still manage to never sound derivative, and clearly show a band that is growing and forging its own creative path.