As much as Canuck quintet Black Mountain heavily relied on their classic rock inspirations for their ’05 eponymous debut, declaring front and center their distaste for “modern music,” it comes as no surprise their follow-up would push the aesthetic even further. Loudly recalling “War Pigs”-era Sabbath and beefy riff rock, In The Future sounds as if frontman Stephen McBean sneaked out composer David Cope’s EMI program for a midnight romp through the ’70s boneyard to channel Sabbath’s goth pioneering, Zeppelin-induced folk fantasy and Floyd’s droning keyboards.
This cauldron of high-end brew perfectly melds their uncanny knack for psychedelic mystique and power-chord thrusts, resulting in a sprawling gem that marks the first truly great record of the year.
Whereas their former album, contrary to McBean’s supposed slight of rock’s modern mutations, nevertheless felt a touch of avant garde in its vintage leanings—specifically, the electronic blips underlying “No Hits” and, oddly enough, post-jazz sax trills of their anti-new anthem, “Modern Music”—In The Future is steeped with such grace in the macabre fantasies and howling archetypes of early metal that it somehow lives up to its title by seeming a little ahead of its time. All this does lend itself to feeling a tad secondhand, yes, but it would be wrong to suggest it was a flat-out cribbed affair seeing that McBean’s Hendrixian licks and Amber Webber’s warbly vibrato, which takes a much stronger role this time around, emote so believably that even the most definitively classic guitar solo feels entirely authentic.
In the same way The Sword’s Age of Winters managed to (mostly) skirt campy artificiality when conjuring up the ancient goddesses of doom metal, Black Mountain completely side-step sounding derivative of their heavy-weight counterparts they wear so proudly on their sleeves, even when belting out some of their more trite lyrics like “We love the night and all its witchery” on the 17-minute “Bright Lights,” or revolt against Sweet Lucifer on “Evil Ways.”
Opener “Stormy High” quickly flares into a bat-out-of-Hell announcement, then ducks into the dazed grunge of “Angels”—perhaps the only song in the last decade that has legitimately reminded me of how good Soundgarden really was—and finally plunges the stake into the heart with “Tyrants,” a multifarious epic that mood shifts from hurtling drum rolls to traveling bard guitar interludes, capped with pseudo-political, battlefield apocalyptica that sets the tone for the entirety of Future‘s many elegant dips and meandering curves.
Black Mountain’s ability to spin such an expansive effort into a tight whole proves their dexterity with their chosen material, as well as confidence of vision, making for an impressive feat that sets the bar way above the heads of other tribute acts looking to transform their tired period pieces into the genuine, referential mosaic that this sophomore album delivers with irritating ease.