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Wilderness Heart
Format: CD / LP / MP3
Release Date: September 14, 2010
By Nick Margiasso January 12, 2011

“Oooooh yeah, damn this is an awesome song. Who is this?” said my friend in a cabin filled with smoke and musicians nodding their heads silently while leaning against something sturdy.

“Black Mountain,” I responded.

“I knew it,” he confirmed in a haze, tacking on some superlatives.

And there you have it.

After you’ve heard them once, you know Black Mountain when you hear them again. That is, of course, unless you mistake them for some tune faintly overheard from the next room as a VH1 Classic Masters of Metal-style video countdown churns on as you make a double grilled cheese.

With Wilderness Heart, the band’s third full-length record, Black Mountain tries a change-up of sorts and alters the sonic attitudes conveyed from their previous albums. That modification comes in the form of mixing in a random archive of musical attempts the crew made on previous outings.

Where the quintet’s debut, a 2005 self-titled effort, was a fresh and multifaceted take on youthfully impassioned, if not drugged and bearded, drone rock from the 1970s, 2008’s In the Future took a satisfying grasp of the stoner-metal reigns and slow-rode them with proper fore-and-pinkie-finger signs aloft. Wilderness Heart is an attempt at melding each with some poppier sentiments for a bit of accessibility, leaving you with the hope that the group just picks one or the other.

“The Hair Song” opens the record as a high-flying, yet succinct pop-metal tune that in one fell swoop utilizes nearly all the band’s specified talents. It’s got a sick guitar riff, a catchy verse-chorus-verse route, lead man Stephen McBean’s gravelly vocal delivery backed by the pretty pipes of Amber Webber, all buttressed by Jeremy Schmidt’s intense organ sounds. It’s the album’s single and rightfully so, as it’s the best tune on the album.

From there, the Vancouverans turn toward the spaced-out, psych-metal of their last album with “Old Fangs” – one of only three heavy, drone rock efforts on Wilderness Heart. Out of 10 tracks, that’s a 30-percent “Awesome… dude” rock ratio on this record versus the 80-percent from In the Future. I’m not sure exactly what that means for the band or its fans. We may have to call on the spirit of Ronnie James Dio for a ruling.

Of the trio of heavy rock tunes, “Rollercoaster” is the obvious standout here. It comes in over the five-minute mark – something the band blew through habitually on their last record, but just two times on this one (another tell-tale sign on the accessibility meter). It opens with a Sabbathian monster riff and is immediately joined by Schmidt’s heavy organ, before the tide rolls back for McBean’s vocals backed by just the evil strut of a synthesizer and a ball-busting bass-line. Drop in sprinkles of Webber’s angelic voice and you’ve got a great one.

Unfortunately, it’s followed by the single worst tune of the band’s career. “Let Spirits Ride” is a cheesy, cornball of a metal song akin to something a Judas Priest cover band might play at a biker bar in Daytona. It’s that bad.

Overall, the album veers heavily toward sleepy, acoustic tapestry jams like “Radiant Hearts,” “Buried by the Blues,” and “The Space of your Mind.” Probably inspired by the on-target attempt at this genre in the form of “Stay Free” off In the Future (also included on the Spiderman 3 soundtrack, oddly enough), Black Mountain falls victim to a style they may have struck gold with once. Too many visits to the well, though, seem to leave the band coming up with less creative juice each time.

The style mishmash makes for a slightly uneven album, but one that still showcases parts of what makes Black Mountain so attractive. Too much mashing up, though, and my buddy may not be able to recognize that “awesome” sound anymore.

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