Stephen McBean, the mainstay of the Black Mountain project as well as a key member of Pink Mountaintops and Grim Tower, has only recently passed his driving test (at the age of 48). This newfound sense of liberation and personal independence has permeated the essence of Destroyer, which is named after a Dodge muscle car, in its narrative themes of hope, freedom and looking to the future with optimism. Think late-70s Springsteen or early-90s Swervedriver in terms of narrative tropes around escape and journeys towards a brighter tomorrow. Such lyrical themes abound on Destroyer with the accompaniment of the usual psychedelic heavy rock for which Black Mountain are known. Overall, though, the prog elements of their output to date are less evident on this latest album, and it is all the better for it. At eight tracks, and with no song longer than seven minutes, this is a lean, toned and svelte Black Mountain album, which showcases a more driven (yep, I went there!) McBean.

The album opens with ‘Future Shade’ which is an unapologetic great big slab of early-70s heavy rock, topped with McBean’s usual vocal delivery which is part lackadaisical drawl, part fermented angst. New member Rachel Fannan, formerly of Sleepy Sun and Only You, replaces the ridiculously enigmatic Amber Webber on backing vocals on this album, and her voice sits well in the Black Mountain maelstrom with its dramatic and operatic tone suiting the grandiose ambitions of the work as a whole. ‘Horns Arising’ follows and is undoubtedly the highlight of the album with a guitar and keyboard introduction that will burrow itself into your skull for days to come. The vocals here have a robotic effect on them, in the way that 80s TV shows like Buck Rogers thought robots would talk. There is a retro-futurist feel to Destroyer which elevates it above most of Black Mountain’s output to date, with the exception of their masterful debut whose heights have rarely been breached again. There is an undoubted pomposity to much of the best aspects of Black Mountain – the lyrics here of “Horns arising on a lake of fire” are risible, but the sincerity with which they are delivered negates this sense of absurdity and makes a believer out of the deepest cynic. McBean has always been able to put authentic conviction at the forefront of what he does, and this is laudable rather than laughable.

‘High Rise’ is the most fervent psych song here, having echoes of Acid Mother’s Temple in places, with its repetition willing the listener into yielding. Oneida’s Kid Millions drums on the album and his presence is most noticeable when the drumming is relentless as it is on this track.

‘Pretty Little Lazies’ comes across like Radiohead jamming with The Flaming Lips with words written by John Lennon in an attempt to sound like early Pink Floyd. If that is your type of thing then you will love it. I’m less keen, however, and this feels like the low point of the album. Maybe I am just too much of a contrarian, or maybe this track just feels too much like it’s been phoned in, until the verse ends and instead of going to the all-too-predictable chorus that has already formed in your head, the song shifts several gears and transforms into a heady rush of drums, keys and riffs which pushes it above its comfort zone and back into the realms of movement, escape and forward-thinking trajectory. It then moves into a third part of the song, as if Black Mountain thought about writing their own version of ‘Paranoid Android’ but lost heart halfway through. No doubt loads of people will bang on about this song for ages, but it stinks of contrivance to me.

‘Licensed to Drive’ continues the lyrical metaphors of being behind the wheel and is a straight up Ozzy-era Black Sabbath riff monster, with the twin vocals of McBean and Fannan intertwining low in the mix while the guitars and drums take the weight of the song. It is urgent, insistent and joyous whilst also being a little silly. Album closer ‘FD 72’ is unlike anything Black Mountain have put to tape so far – it has an air of 80s synth-pop earnestness, like a Gary Numan track which was abandoned due to the inebriated nature of the vocalist trying to overly ape David Bowie. The lyrical reference to “…the man who fell to Earth” rams this point home further. It is a risk and I like it.

Destroyer feels like a band waking up from the slumber rut that marred their more recent output. There is a distinct sense of urgency here, of the adrenaline felt with a new experience that always seemed previously out of reach. McBean has (fuel) injected an exigency to this project once again, and the results are great.