Published Sep 16, 2019Black Mountain went through the ringer in order to deliver their fifth album, Destroyer. Drummer Joshua Wells and singer Amber Webber, together known as Lightning Dust, amicably split from the outfit after the return to form that was 2016's IV. This left synth wizard and graphic designer Jeremy Schmidt and mystical, leather-vested songwriter/incendiary lead guitarist Stephen McBean to either carry on or close up shop.
Thankfully, they chose to keep waving this freak flag, honouring the good name of Black Mountain with a full-length offering inspired by McBean finally getting his driver's license. Joining the crew were vocalist Rachel Fannan of Sleepy Sun and drummer Adam Bulgasem of Dommengang, alongside bassist Arjan Miranda (Family Band, Children, S.T.R.E.E.T.S.) who continued his work from IV. Many others worked on the album itself, but these three psychonauts actually hit the stage with McBean and Schmidt for this tour.
The venue wasn't at capacity, but it was respectably full for a late show on a Sunday night. Almost every dude with a beard on Vancouver Island was there for the triumphant return home of Victoria's favourite son, McBean having been a major player in the city's nascent punk scene of the early- to mid-'80s care of Jerk Ward and Mission of Christ.
The show's opening act featured another reunion of sorts. Pittsburgh multi-instrumentalist A.E. Paterra, of horror-prog duo Zombi, opened for Black Mountain with his solo Majeure project on the U.S. leg of their tour for IV in 2016, so he's practically family now. Majeure's sound is all about '80s horror movie soundtracks, minimal industrial drum machine beats and droning power chords that produce a dramatic, cinematic feel somewhere between Goblin's work on 1978's Dawn of the Dead and Andrew Thomas Wilson's score to the 1980 Ozploitation classic The Chain Reaction.
Throughout Majeure's set, you could close your eyes and practically see teenagers being chased through the woods by cumbersome — if unyielding — villains infected by the intent to kill. You really could close your eyes too — it's all idling, slow-building soundscapes, the kind of thing that would be perfect at a rave's chill stage at 3AM, while Black Mountain is all throttle.
A screen wrapped around the back of the stage came to life with retro-light swathes to announce the appearance of the headliners. A vocoder drone saying "circle the light" led into "High Rise" from Destroyer, with McBean letting loose the first of many scorching guitar solos after belting out the refrain, "The loneliest cock in the sky!"
Tasked with big shoes to fill, Rachel Fannan first made her presence felt in "Future Shade." The timbre of her inflection evokes as much of a gospel sonority as metal power, compared to the more introspective, emotive vibrato of the departed Amber Webber. Fannan brought a slightly different energy, a little more Buffy Sainte-Marie edge to the band's psychedelic hard rock style. Filling in some synth, shaker, woodblock and tambourine whenever necessary, Fannan prowled and marched in place on tracks like "Stormy High" from 2008's In the Future and "Florian Saucer Attack" from IV.
For all of their efforts, the rhythm section of Bulgasem and Miranda mostly blended into the textures. Bulgasem drove to the fore as the synth progression of "Closer to the Edge" transitioned into "Licensed to Drive," with that massive fill before the driving riff of the latter track hitting full speed, placing itself on the soundtrack for an imagined film between 1981 film Heavy Metal and its sequel, Heavy Metal 2000.
Looking dapper in a sport coat, Schmidt's synths came up huge throughout the set, like the space explorer solo on "Wucan" from In the Future, arguably the best track from their best album, or the heavy organ sound and synth runs on "Old Fangs" from 2010's Wilderness Heart. Schmidt's biggest moment came in "Horns Arising," performing its epic synth lead before turning to deliver its vocoded vocals, keying up the hair-flying, head-banging, evil metal riffage from McBean.
As the true lynchpin of the group, McBean delivered all of that for which you would hope. His vocals were at their most compelling in "FD 72," a swelling dirge that sounds like Bowie jamming with Hawkwind, but he really does most of his talking with the guitar. Among others, he let loose a riotous solo in "Druganaut" from their self-titled 2005 debut, a funky southern-fried groove that channels Black Sabbath recording at Muscle Shoals.
"Space to Bakersfield" transcended space and time. Unfortunately, there was a little bit of crackle in the mix for that one, but McBean seemed to fix it before he launched into his hottest soloing of the night, fretwork fierier than anything Robin Trower ever did, while Schmidt's droning, elongated organ tones underscored the downtempo, atmospheric nature of the track. And sure, a couple other songs had a bit of muffle to them at high volume, but it's doubtful that anyone who felt the bluesy grind of "Boogie Lover" or stuck around for the encore rendition of "Mothers of the Sun" left in a state other than deep satisfaction.