That the title of Vancouver-based Black Mountain’s second album, In the Future, would point forward to some unrealized moment in history seems odd, given how deeply the band’s sound is entrenched in the past. Truly, bandleader Stephen McBean’s single-minded dedication to resurrecting a time when overblown rock ruled the airwaves makes him more of an archeologist than a prophet.
In part, what made the band’s self-titled debut in 2005 so irresistible was how it played like a pick-and-mix of classic-rock staples. Imagine a scrambled musical vision cobbled together out of the best parts of classic rock’s immutable canon and you can begin to get the idea. The Sabbath-style riffing of “Don’t Run Our Hearts Around” ballooned to prog-rock proportions. Everything about “No Satisfaction,” from its loose, sweat-soaked swagger to its title, approximated the Stones. And “Druganaut,” a bluesy workout with on-a-dime precision and crunchy chording, conjured early Led Zeppelin. In the Future synthesizes all these influences into a more cohesive whole, but it hardly sounds like some futuristic fusion of arena-rock relics. Instead, Black Mountain seems to have perpetrated some legitimate time travel, creating a record that could have sprung from an era of muscle cars, muscle tees, and moustaches.
Certainly, such a faithfully time-warped aesthetic has its perks. “Tyrants” boils over with fist-pumping riffs and culminates in a call-and-response drum solo. Throughout, Mellotrons abound (you know, that archaic contraption John Paul Jones plays in The Song Remains the Same). On “Wucan,” keyboardist Jeremy Schmidt builds a shimmering skyscraper of vintage synthesizers. And “Angels” and “Wild Wind” show McBean’s underutilized knack for writing lean pop structures.
Unfortunately, the band also indulges its influences’ appetite for excess. The ostensible centerpiece of In the Future, “Bright Lights,” stretches to more than sixteen minutes. Bloated, surprisingly static, and prone to exploring Pink Floyd-style atmospheres, it feels like a black hole in the middle of the album. Still, it preserves In the Future’s time-capsule sensibility with a warts-and-all faithfulness to ’70s rock. It also illustrates the sheer sense of ambition radiating in these songs, from the band’s devastating technical proficiency to McBean’s ornate, multipart compositions. If Black Mountain is digging up the past for its inspiration, even its instrumental palette, the band never stoops to grave robbery. And in the end, perhaps that’s what the title refers to: the present as a future point from the early ’70s, when these songs could have been radio smashes.