Witch Mountain – Witch Mountain (2018) REVIEW

Formed abreast the epicenter of Oregon’s bigger and better things, Portland-based Witch Mountain spent nearly a decade failing about before following up their Revelation-esque 2001 stoner/doom metal debut ‘…Come the Mountain’. If you’re familiar with Erica Stoltz of Sanhedrin she completely steals the show as a guest on that first album. In fact Witch Mountain would on-board a full-time female vocalist with their ‘reformation’ around 2009 and form the best known line-up as well as solidify their signature approach to bluesy traditional doom metal. Starting with ‘South of Salem’ in 2011 their sound would stick to what I like to call “Under the Sun” doom metal with a heavy emphasis on a mid-paced swinging blues groove and almost Joplin-esque vocal performance from Uta Plotkin. Female vocals, extended song lengths, and a general mid-pace all form the unflinching sound of Witch Mountain but with some key staff changes around 2014 they’ve come back quite a bit stronger.

With no offense meant to Plotkin, no matter what changed in her tone or writing I could never warm up to ‘Cauldron of the Wild’ or ‘Mobile of Angels’ because of her voice. As epic as it might have been live, on record it was not only mixed strangely quiet but outside of the swinging-loose blues of ‘South of Salem’ she was trying far too hard. Unflattering vibrato and particularly powerless delivery on ‘Mobile of Angels’ kept me from buying their last two records with her. With the revolving door for bassists unseated and Plotkin out in 2014 Witch Mountain sourced Lamprey bassist Justin Brown and classically trained vocalist Kayla Dixon who hadn’t put much on record at that point. Around this same time guitarist Rob Wrong joined ex-Trouble vocalist Eric Wagner‘s The Skull. In road testing and familiarizing the new members with the lay of the mountain Witch Mountain have produced what I think is their best album.

Dixon‘s voice is not only more adept and believable in her delivery of the blues but her range is just as capable of epic doom metal wailing as it is death metal growling (“Midnight”). That general boost in professional performance is met eye-to-eye with the first Witch Mountain album to venture above and beyond the stoned, mid-paced riffing that defined them post-2011. There are old pre-production demos for Soundgarden‘s ‘Fell on Black Days’ floating around (YouTube) and I’ve always felt that original version sums up the appeal of Rob Wrong‘s laid back guitar work. That approach to heavy, slow-motion electric blues recalls ‘South of Salem’ initially but doesn’t sit there beyond the first track as you’d expect. The vocal harmonies kick up far more dust than I personally expected and Dixon is appreciably epic whether she’s double-tracked, solo, or growling.

The beautifully harmonized “Hellfire” leading into the epic 14+ minute Electric Wizard-esque “Nighthawk” is one of my favorite doom metal moments of 2018 thus far. The theatrical, almost American traditional music feeling fading into a gloomy stoner doom bassline is genius and the build towards what is perhaps the best track of the band’s career is intense to say the least. Say what you will about the ‘death metal’/growled vocals delivered by Dixon, I mean they’re not exactly friggin’ Ross Dolan or whatever but she pulls it off when it counts and it is just as fitting as you’d hear on any Cardinal’s Folly record. Bands need to do more to stand out in the crowded doom/stoner landscape anymore and I feel like Witch Mountain have come back down to Earth doing more, and better, than anything previous without losing their sound. A recommended spin if their previous releases didn’t totally scare you away.

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Artist Witch Mountain
Type Album
Released May 25, 2018
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Genres

Cages we build. 4.0/5.0

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