If you only like flaccid, milquetoast indie rock, you’re really going to hate getting crushed by Black Mountain 



The set is almost over. The crowd — a motley set of hippies, heshers, punks and once-confused onlookers — has become one, shimmying and shaking in unison, clapping and singing with the loose and fluid synchronicity of spellbound snake charmers sippin' on some sizzurp. Onstage, Vancouver's Black Mountain are pouring everything they have into the pounding post-tribal rhythm and spaced-out synth washes, rocking the riff like they may never have the chance again. There is a communal energy running through the room that is rare for an honest-to-goodness rock show, and even rarer within the wintry indie-rock scene where sweater vests have apparently cut off the circulation to the fun centers in the brain, or something like that. But in this moment, all the awfulness that has defined "indie" music as it's hitting its major-label/mass-market zenith is being bludgeoned into oblivion by this group of dope-smoking Canadian riff-monsters. Thank God.

The irony is that this show is taking place on Black Mountain's day off from touring with Coldplay — possibly the oddest tour pairing of the 21st century. The year is 2005, and our crew has piled into four jam-packed cars and set out on a five-hour car ride to catch the southernmost performance of the Canuck crew's proggy kraut-metal-pop. Their self-titled debut album has become the official soundtrack of the summer's cookout circuit, having effectively conquered the hive mind and taken over the stereo in our souls. It is the rare record that resonates with every member of our sprawling, music-snob-heavy clique: There's just something about the slippery hooks and dueling male-female vocals, the propulsive rhythm section and swirling keyboards that seems to be the perfect accompaniment to cheap beer, expensive weed and grilled meats. Our expectations for the live show are, uh, really high, and the band does not disappoint.

Hop in the TARDIS and skip ahead, say, half a decade, and Black Mountain are on another Southern swing in support of their third — and arguably best — album, Wilderness Hearts. It might not include any 17-minute cosmic journeys through the dark heart of your Van Der Graaf Generator collection, like "Bright Lights" from 2008's Into the Future, but on Hearts, Black Mountain do manage to make a powerful argument for the inherent listenability of heavy, progressive music from the '70s and its viability as source material for coping with the groove-less era of rock music in which we live. Yes, it might be difficult to get Mr. Mustache-and-Tight-Pants in the cubicle next to you to listen to, say, Atomic Rooster's In Hearing Of — roosters haven't reached cool-animal-band-name status with Pitchfork yet — but even the indie-est asshole in the room is going to have a tough time denying the menacing swagger of Black Mountain's "Old Fang."

Then there's "Let Spirits Ride," which is like Rainbow's "A Light in the Black" if Dio had been trying to hold onto his last bong hit while recording the vocals. And the title track, "Wilderness Hearts," answers the burning question: "What would Suzi Quatro sound like singing for Deep Purple?" Hearts may not have all the shambolic charm of their debut, and it may not be as zone-out-friendly as their sophomore effort — the longest song on Hearts tops out at 5:01 — but songs like the acoustic-guitar-and-organ epic "Radiant Hearts" and the Nantucket Sleigh Ride-esque bass-fuzz vamp of "Roller Coaster" make the case that all other modern music is lacking seriously in the "majesty" department. And we're not talking about elves-frolicking-in-the-woods majesty, we're talking about riding-a-dragon-with-your-enemy's-head-on-a-stick majesty — badass majesty. Ass-kicking, rock 'n' roll majesty.

And the astounding thing is that after mining this proverbial vein for so long, Black Mountain have managed to avoid the major pitfall that has plagued all of prog since time immemorial — they never take it too seriously. They never get pompous. Lead singer Stephen McBean never stands on one leg and plays flute, if you know where I'm coming from. If anything, McBean and the Black Mountain army have rallied the troops, loaded up the big guns and hot-boxed the tanks, declaring war on the twee, soft-rock simpleton enemy, peering over the trench wall with a 50- yard stare and a finger on the trigger. Wilderness Hearts lobs a grenade into the bunker of complacency, shaking up modern rock 'n' roll with a kind of heaviness that's been marginalized by music fans and critics alike for the last 30 years. And they most definitely have the live show to back it up all up.

Email music@nashvillescene.com.


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