In The Future

Black Mountain

Jagjaguwar, 2008

REVIEW BY: Sean McCarthy


In general, progressive rock is about the least sexy genre of music out there. You can point to several factors: the richly complex themes that reside in a lot of progressive rock albums isn’t the stuff of back seat makeout sessions; the odd timing shifts of a lot of progressive rock also doesn’t bode well for boot knockin’; and finally, many progressive rock vocalists are grating enough to kill any romantic vibes. This may be a reason why progressive rock is more the soundtrack of long night role-playing sessions than music to get you to “home plate.”

There are exceptions to every rule, however. And Vancouver’s Black Mountain does their best to make progressive rock actually sound sexy on In The Future. The band, led by Stephen McBean, do this by seriously blurring the lines of progressive rock, ‘70s era straightforward stoner rock and even a bit of falsetto soul. In fact, only about a third of this album sounds anything like progressive rock.

For neophytes to progressive rock, In The Future is a great starter disc. The kickoff track “Stormy High” is pure butt rock, and that is by no means a criticism. McBean’s guitar lays down a riff deep enough to rattle your speakers and drummer Joshua Wells adds another layer of heaviness. The track, like most of the album, shows Black Mountain’s care of rhythm, something many progressive rock bands have little to no interest in developing. my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Black Mountain’s attention to rhythm, thanks mainly to Wells’ drumming, Matthew Camirand’s bass and even Jeremy Schmidt’s Steely Dan-like keyboard work, should be enough to lure non-progressive rock fans in. And if that doesn’t work, Amber Webber’s vocals should dispel virtually anyone’s fear of progressive rock. Her weary, almost bluesy voice is at the forefront of “Night Walks,” the beautiful bummer of a closing track that is a perfect complement to a solo, drunken late night pity party. Her other centerpiece, “Stay Free,” isn’t nearly as powerful, but it managed to get on the Spiderman 3 soundtrack.

So what’s progressive about In The Future, aside from a cover so bitchin’ that it makes you nostalgic for albums? First off, there are plenty of allusions to epic battles, witches and mythology on this disc. Secondly, there are plenty of shifting time signatures. But mainly, it’s because of Black Mountain’s affinity for “epic” tracks, specifically in the eight minute “Tyrants” and the way overboard sixteen minute-plus “Bright Lights.” “Tyrant” represents the band’s best progressive rock traits: a large, full sound assault that sounds like three songs compacted into one, but it never loses momentum. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said with “Bright Lights.” Even a quarter way through, the song runs out of ideas and the almost comedic moaning of “Light Bright” by McBean will most likely bring about memories of the glowing lights Hasbro toy than of the “total nightmares,” “darkness” and “destruction” the song tries to convey in its lyrics and sound.

Fortunately, “Night Walks” redeems that sixteen minute monstrosity with a beautiful, almost country-esque ballad. It’s a great ending to an album that, while paying some major respects to progressive rock, is accessible enough to be in any rock lover’s collection. Hardly a “dumbed down” version of progressive rock, In The Future is an album that’s brainy enough to accompany a marathon session of World Of Warcraft and rambunctious enough for a Saturday night kegger.

Rating: B+

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© 2009 Sean McCarthy and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Jagjaguwar, and is used for informational purposes only.