Planted firmly on a venue’s floor in front of enormous bass stacks, drummer/vocalist Brian Chippendale and bassist Brian Gibson, together as Lightning Bolt, produce some of the loudest sounds imaginable. It’s the type of sound that can only truly be experienced live. But Hypermagic Mountain, the fourth album from this Providence, Rhode Island duo, is the closest Lightning Bolt has come to capturing its immense live presence on record.
As Chippendale acknowledges several false starts (“Nope, not that,” he announces after his first flub; “That wasn’t it” after the second) in his search for the correct launching-off point for the fourth track, “Riffwraiths,” two things become clear: The first is that Lightning Bolt works like a machine, plowing through dense rhythms but always in synch. Despite the combustible energy, the duo’s compositions sound wonderfully scripted. The second point — and this is what sets Lightning Bolt apart from such riff-mongers as Hella or such noise-noodlers as Black Dice — is the duo’s absolute concern for the song as a song.
Notice the album’s emphasis on repetition and movement. What’s odd about the false starts in “Riffwraiths” is that Chippendale’s apologetic vocals are so rhythmically focused — their cadence almost providing a counter-beat — that their presence reminds the listener that these compositions are intelligently, though somewhat manically, scripted.
This is far from just the product of two stoners jamming as fast as they can, far from what some may see as an exercise or immature wank-fest. Take “Dead Cowboy,” where the duo withholds the inevitable noise explosion, repeatedly showing a little only to take it away again. The effect is similar to that of a deejay teasing the audience by introducing a bit of a track — say a cowbell part or a Cybotron sample — without diving into it entirely.
Much of the rest of Hypermagic Mountain – which was produced by Dave Auchenbach and recorded, unbelievably, primarily using two tracks – maintains the composure of the songs without sacrificing the drum ‘n’ bass brutality. The vocals on “Captain Caveman” spring forth with a bit (read: just a bit) more soul than the squeals and squawks fans have come to expect from Chippendale, who sings through a contact microphone (the type of mike used in telephones) connected to a shabby luchador mask, with the wire running through his shirt so it doesn’t interfere with his hyper-speed limbs. Although it’s slightly excessive, “Bizarro Bike” features Gibson shredding out high-pitched fret runs like it’s a prog anthem, and “No Rest for the Obsessed” proves Lightning Bolt can out-metal most metal bands. The song chugs along in a grinding bass sludge only to cut off as it begins to build — a perfect “fuck you” to end the album.
“Magic Mountain,” while still epic in scope, is one of the few moments on Hypermagic Mountain that loses focus, accumulating tension through scale exercises until the expected climax knocks the whole damn routine on its ass. Unlike on the other songs, Chippendale and Gibson sound like they’re running through rudiments, a habit that also arises on “Bizarro Zarro Land.”
Even with its brief lapses, Hypermagic Mountain is Lightning Bolt’s most accomplished effort to date, one-upping 2003’s Wonderful Rainbow with a fresh sense of maturity. With slightly more restrained moments such as the opening minutes of “Mohawk Windmill” and the simple chirping psychedelics of “Infinity Farm,” the album blends diverse moods with the balls-out rock the duo is known for. Hypermagic Mountain reveals there’s more to Lightning Bolt than just a giant sound.