It’d be understandable if, going into Black Mountain‘s Destroyer, one would assume it’s standard stoner-rock fare. After all, Black Mountain are very good at that very thing, even if they balance it with more ambitious prog and art rock sounds as evident on albums like 2016’s IV. But an extra hit from the bong might be necessary here; by the second song, “Horns Arising,” things get interesting. There is is a robotic pitch-shifted harmonizing effect on the vocals that contrasts the more organic ’70s rock of the instrumentation. Granted, an entire album with that effect would be tedious. But it absolutely works for this song.
Destroyer isn’t a complete reinvention of Black Mountain’s sound, but a little experimentation goes a long way here. Following the electronic elements of “Horns Arising,” the return of more natural vocals provides a more dynamic contrast even before the acoustic breakdown. There still strong psychedelic undertones to “Closer to the Edge.” The retro synth sounds work well and float off almost into krautrock, and the way it bleeds into “High Rise” makes it feel like a transition in a longer song.
“Pretty Little Lazies” is almost like a ’70s glam version of Hawkwind. So imagine the acid-induced weirdness is strutting around on Hollywood Blvd. Something in the intention in the delivery offers a reminder that Black Mountain are seasoned indie rock musicians than some psychonauts who just crawled out of the desert after binging on Black Sabbath. There are moments that have more of an authentic edge like with “Boogie Lover.” This is however heavily tempered to a more highbrow aesthetic. Sure, there are fleeting inspirations from both Alice Cooper and Judas Priest in the metallic aspiration of some of the riffs. But a few metallic riffs don’t make you a metal band. Nor do I think they set out to be, judging by how easily they transition into the Berlin-era Bowie vibes on the last song, “FD ’72.” There’s even a winking reference to The Man Who Fell To Earth in the lyrics. Still, Bowie is part of the the ’70s wheelhouse that they draw upon, and Black Mountain remind us of why it’s such a great decade to pull from.
There’s no problem with a band wearing their influences on their sleeves (especially if they’re bands I like). Destroyer never feels like an outright tribute, however. Black Mountain throw a lot of familiarity at the listener, but still manage to blend together into something much more novel. The band proves here how to maintain a balance of good sounds and good songs. The guitar heroics are kept to a minimum with few foot-on-the-monitor moments, and the vocals are not afterthoughts but narratives suited for this surreal journey upon which Black Mountain invites you. Destroyer is well worth tagging along for the ride.