116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Correction: Primus will play Rush’s “A Farewell to Kings” album during the Oct. 10 show in Cedar Rapids. An earlier version of this story said Black Mountain was performing the full album.
During hard rock and heavy metal’s formative years, keyboardists played an indispensable role in some of the genres’ most influential bands.
Seminal Deep Purple albums like “Machine Head” and “Made in Japan” wouldn’t be remotely recognizable without Jon Lord’s driving Hammond grooves and Bach-influenced keyboard improvisations. Uriah Heep’s Ken Hensley, whose heavily layered synthesizers dominated the band’s bombastic arrangements, also wrote and arranged most of their hits.
So how is it that keyboardists fell out of favor and are still largely absent from today’s hard rock lineups?
“I tend to wonder the same thing,” Black Mountain keyboardist, arranger and songwriter Jeremy Schmidt said in a phone interview. “As is probably evident from my contributions to the band, I see heavy rock with keyboards, organs and synthesizers as a force for good in the world.
“And then it just became less fashionable somehow. When I would hear those records with Rick Wakeman and Jon Lord playing tons of keyboards, I’d be like ‘Why don’t people do this (expletive) anymore?’ So it was like, OK, I’ll do it.”
True to his word, Schmidt puts his vintage Mellotron and other analog electronics through their paces on “Destroyer,” Black Mountain’s latest collection of what NPR has described as “old-school, face-frying, fist-pumping, riff-heavy rock at its finest.”
Fans can hear that sound live when the Vancouver band opens for Primus Saturday night, Oct. 10, 2021, at the McGrath Amphitheatre in downtown Cedar Rapids. Primus will perform Rush’s classic “A Farewell to Kings” in its entirety.
Highlights on Black Mountain’s fifth full-length release, “Destroyer,” include the Judas Priest-on-acid ecstasy of “Licensed to Drive,” the paisley revivalism of “Pretty Little Lazies,” and the unabashedly Yes-inspired “Closer to the Edge.”
Co-founded by Schmidt and singer-guitarist Stephen McBean back in 2004, Black Mountain started out modestly enough, rehearsing in the basement of the memorably named Pigeon Park Savings Bank. Their first release was a split-single with Destroyer, the band led by New Pornographers member Dan Bejar.
A self-titled debut album followed in early 2005, and later that year, the group spent three weeks opening for Coldplay. It would be another three years before the second Black Mountain album, “In The Future,” arrived, and the group hasn’t exactly been prolific in the years that have followed, releasing just three full-length albums since that sophomore effort.
When asked if Destroyer will name its next album “Black Mountain,” Schmidt insists there was no quid pro quo.
“I don’t think that would be an oblique enough move for Dan Bejar,” he said with a laugh. “But yeah, they’re great friends of ours, and part of our naming the album that was just to amuse ourselves. But it was mostly because, when Steve and I were trying to come up with a title, we wanted it to be some kind of action word, you know, like (ZZ Top’s) ‘Eliminator.’ And then when Steve came up with ‘Destroyer,’ we were like ‘Oh God, we’ve got to use that.’ ”
The album also boasts a guest appearance by Sleepy Sun vocalist Rachel Fannan, as well as a trio of drummers that includes Kliph Scurlock from the Flaming Lips, which remains one of Schmidt’s favorite synth-pop bands.
“I think analog synths have had a resurgence in popularity over the last 20 years,” the cautiously optimistic keyboardist said. “And, while I don’t know if this is totally true, it does seem like people are becoming less segregated when it comes to genres of music and what they enjoy sonically. I guess that’s just a condition of the postmodern world.”