Witch Mountain – South of Salem
This impressive platter of heavy, Sleepy, stoner/sludge/doom had me salivating even before frontwoman Uta Plotkin uttered her first note on first course “Wing of the Lord”. And man, what a voice. Picture Sleep fronted by a female Mike Scheidt, and you’d have some idea of what this reunited Portland outfit sounds like. (Incidentally, YOB cut their teeth opening for Witch Mountain back in the day, or so I’m told…)
After the opening salvo, “Plastic Cage” begins with a tasty bass lick, before a guitar riff takes over with a tone stolen from Matt Pike’s effects board, circa ’93. Plotkin’s plaintive, emotive, yet detached vocals add another layer of misery to this dirty concoction—before they get weirded out by some creepy effects, albeit briefly. The killer riff that sees this tune through to its conclusion has me headbanging like Beavis and Butthead, albeit in half time.
“South Sugar” offers up a sickly sweet swamp blues, with Plotkin both soothing and terrifying—especially when she hits that otherworldly high register that elicits the Schiedt comparisons. Although this is not done to excess it accentuates the atmosphere in all the right places. “End Game” opens with another great, slow ‘n heavy riff with plenty of crunch, though mostly meddles in mid-paced territory, until a ringing crescendo indicates that a time change is on its way. Things only slow down from there, which is never a bad thing…
“Hare’s Stare” maintains a snail’s pace, with very laid-back, passive verses that only make the slow, hard-hitting chorus sound all the more evil, with that extra touch of danger in Plotkin’s spaced-out sneer. A tribal drum pattern provides the backdrop for an oft-whispered refrain “Seize the light!” as the guitar plays a slow, droning pattern for a couple minutes… Things speed up to perhaps the fastest they’ve been only to fall back into a tightly controlled pattern—and we’re still only halfway through this 12-minute monster! “End Game (slight return)” finally draws the album to a close on a brief, drugged-out, instrumental note.
Highly recommended for fans of Sleep, YOB, Black Pyramid, and any other band with a legitimate claim in “stoner doom” territory. Witch Mountain doesn’t rise quite as high as Holy Mountain, but you can see the summit from here…