After listening to Black Mountain for a few weeks, I remarked at their interesting departure from the usual indie rock template, stumbling into touches of late 60’s and 70’s guitar, aesthetics and psychedelics. Cool, I said, a band who has used pieces of the old to put a skew on artistic space they inhabit, namely hi-minded indie rock.But this is where I have a problem. For a band who seems to be named after a Led Zeppelin song, (or a combination of Black Sabbath and Mountain (the bluesy hard rock band that does “Mississippi Queen” among other great songs), why in the world would anyone conflate them with Black Sabbath? Really! Here’s some of the blogger quotes I have read: “Like Sabbath swallowed all the stars in the sky, BLACK MOUNTAIN is power packed space rock,” “Don’t Run Our Hearts Around,” from their eponymous 2005 debut, was a pummeling Sabbath-style riff fest,” and so forth. I found one blogger defaming the connection between Sabbath and Mountain, but I can’t find him now. Anyway, I think there’s a number of reasons why the statements above are misleading, and to prove why I must first define what Black Mountain is, so that we can see what they aren’t. So here goes.
To begin with their content comes nowhere near that of Black Sabbath; I am talking about style, tone, intent. They are not macabre. A few songs intimate at witches with a tongue firmly in cheek (Stormy High), or at some existential fear of the dark, or just taking a stroll in the dark (Night Walks). They do not sing about the apocalypse, and I am talking about the Christian one. If someone has another reading of this, please inform me. They do not create a texture of fear, misapprehension, sociological alienation, or political impotence. Instead, Black Mountain seem more apt being played at a High School barbecue chaperoned by aging parents just now appreciating their kid’s music, the music vaguely inciting the foggies to feebly reminisce about what “hard rock” sounded like.
What’s worse, I get the distinct impression that Black Mountain try to emulate Sabbath. In their song “Druganaut,” a play on Sabbaths’ epically cathartic, bouncing and turbulent “Supernaut,” we get an echo of a song already done by California first-wave doomsters Sleep, spelled slightly differently. Sleep’s song has the propensity to induce you to spark up a fat joint and sit back and enjoy the rumble. “Druganaut” is stolidly slow, boozey, and a third (protracted) attempt at adding to a mighty Sabbath song. “Druganaut” is way too limp to grab any attention; although it might excite those who have never heard Sabbath in the first place.
So let’s talk about the music part itself. Again, to me Black Mountain sound like a copy of a copy of a copy of a soupy mix of Led Zeppelin, Blue Oyster Cult, Queens of the Stone Age, Grizzly Bear, and Modest Mouse. Yeah, seriously. At no point do I ever think of Black Sabbath because Sabbath uses a number of consistent elements that Black Mountain does not. They have riff driven songs, using an often heavier, lower end blues riff, that is almost always bisected by a solo by Mr. Iommi. I can describe Black Mountain as being bouncy, bright at times and diffuse at others, but never rifftastic, heavy, dark, menacing, mournful or angry, like Black Sabbath are in almost every one of their songs.
Taking the next step to this position, I think that the disproportionate blogger response to Black Mountain having their roots based in Black Sabbath or that they sound like Black Sabbath is a misconception of Black Sabbath itself and points an accusing finger at the movement called indie rock. Indie rock is good and all. I have quite a few indie rock CD’s that I listen to, but one cannot base ones conception of the epistemology of music, and in this case, heavy music, through the lens and development of indie rock. If anything, conflating the two bands is a sign of the closed view on which the supposedly high minded and eclectic indie scene kids pride themselves. Although, I think the real reason I couldn’t find any outrage of this conflation is because no metal fans are listening to Black Mountain, so none of what I am saying matters anyway.
Long live the music of Black Sabbath!