Witch Mountain - South of Salem
Doom Metal
638 songs (38 minutes)
Release year: 2011
Witch Mountain
Reviewed by Jake
Surprise of the month

As the slower metals move ever closer to arrythmic drone, it's always nice to be reminded that “doom” once meant a weighed-down take on the blues with an emphasis on its creep and crawl. That old-school doom sound is far from gone, and drone metal and funeral doom are not without their own charms, but the dynamic and traditional musicianship of a band like Portland, Oregon's Witch Mountain still stands out against the climate. The band's LP South of Salem, its first since revamping with a new band structure built around a young female vocalist, is a blend of dragging Black Sabbath/Candlemass riffs with pseudo-soul singing and Voivod-like tortured distortion. The record is available for name-your-price download at their homepage (witchmountain.bandcamp.com), and though you can have it for free, its classic-but-not-dated sound is worth whatever support you can spare.

South of Salem's opening tune, Wing of the Lord, does a good job of quickly communicating what to expect tonally: buzzing static fades in and is interrupted by a walloping swing beat, which then fades to a quieter level to let Uta Plotkin sing in a powerful, sort of late-60s soul-rock croon. It's full-throated, but it's never gravelly, and like the music around it it's quite dynamic; Plotkin spends a lot of the album jumping quickly from a soft lilt to bellowed high notes. Her approach never sounds like traditional metal singing—as stated, its roots go farther back than metal, and it doesn't cross over into the 80s wail. Her terrific delivery sacrifices heaviness for texture, but have no fear: this is a heavy album. Dave Hoopaugh and Nate Carson comprise the kind of deliberately lumbering rhythm section that best complements bluesy doom—their simple, low-end-heavy beats keep Rob Wrong's riffs sounding massive even when he departs from them for a squealing, chromatic, creepily thin guitar solo, or when the music slows down for a dark, trill-chord-sustain slow section, as it does on the album's highlight Hare's Stare, a 13-minute epic closer fully worthy of metal's long tradition of great epic closing tracks, which features the most varied riffwork and pacing on the album as well as a winningly theatrical performance by Plotkin.

Witch Mountain are not genre or style revivalists, but they're old-school players with a mature ear and a sophisticated ability to blend the classic and the modern without sounding like they're charging in from a past era. In short, they're innovative, and damn good performers to boot. They're also stand-up folks for making the album available for free; consider paying for it anyway.

Killing Songs :
Wing of the Lord, Hare's Stare
Jake quoted 90 / 100
Other albums by Witch Mountain that we have reviewed:
Witch Mountain - Mobile of Angels reviewed by Charles and quoted 85 / 100
Witch Mountain - Cauldron of the Wild reviewed by Charles and quoted 92 / 100
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