When Witch’s self-titled debut dropped in 2006, the album caught me by surprise. Mainly because J. Mascis was in the band, as their drummer. Mascis, for those unaware, is the man behind the long-running legendary indie rock band Dinosaur Jr.—a longtime favorite of mine (those fuzzy solos are so nice). So when I heard he had once again set up shop behind the drum kit, it was unexpected.
Before Dinosaur Jr., Mascis bashed the skins in the punk/hardcore band Deep Wound and later, in the early 90s, for the doom-metal band Upsidedown Cross. With Witch, he not only traded in his guitar and wah-wah pedal for a drum kit, he also revisited a heavier, doomier metal style far removed from the musical style of the band he built his career on.
Joined by Kyle Thomas (guitar and vocals) and Asa Irons (guitar), both from the avant-folk/rock band Feathers, and Dave Sweetapple (bass), the result is pretty fantastic.
Witch play a slightly mixed bag of doom-metal styles: traditional, stoner, and psychedelic, though heavy on the traditional side of the spectrum with a good dose of 70s rock. The cabalistic lyrical content may remind some of Witchcraft, and fans of the legendary St. Vitus or Pentagram may hear musical similarities, but Witch groove with a more vintage rock swagger than those aforementioned bands—at least the latter two. This is consistently reinforced by Kyle Thomas’s vocals when his upper-range begins to sound somewhat akin to that of old-school Robert Plant. The guitar work throughout the album is excellent, rife with solos and dark grooves courtesy of the Sabbath-heavy riffs. Sweetapple’s bass runs and clear tone in the mix make his instrument more of a standout element rather than an unnoticed part of the rhythm section, the backbone of which is Mascis’s standard but solid drumming.
The album starts in epic form with the stunning “Seer,” a glorious doom-laden jam best suited for a funeral parade at the End of Days. The same formula is applied to other tracks like the stalking stomp of “Black Saint”—accompanied by riff-heavy two-and-a-half-minute closing jam punctuated by some fuzzy dual leads—and the mind-wearying ebb and flow of “Rip Van Winkle.” With the first six songs painting on coat after coat of heavy, doom-riddled texture you might find yourself scratching your head when the final song, “Isadora,” opens with acoustic guitars and subtle vocals wrapped in an eerie melancholia that lasts for almost four minutes. But then things veer back into familiar territory as the floodgates are opened to the down-tuned riffage and solo work that comprise the first six songs. The song ends in classic, plodding doom fashion and Kyle Thomas singing “Isadora” over and over and over again…
And this is generally where I hit play again.
In the years since this album was released, with newer bands like The Sword, Saviours, Blood of the Sun, Priestess, Dixie Witch and Early Man having imparted varying degrees of 70s-influenced stoner rock and doom upon our ears, the style began to feel a bit overwhelming, the scene saturated in mediocrity. Thanks, of course, to the labels who tried to exploit things and shove more and more similar bands down our throats, as they tend to do. Despite this, there will always be a handful of diamonds to be found within the deep, sucking mud of the mainstream’s latest go-to genre. Witch, and those aforementioned bands, are some of those diamonds.
This review originally appeared in Shock Totem #4, July 2011.