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Witch Mountain - South Of Salem (2011) (Full Album)

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Witch Mountain play a smoke-hazed brand of doom metal with a dusty layer of archaic occultism deeply routed into the sound. South Of Salem is their second full-length album. Imagine, if you will, Black Sabbath with Grace Slick replacing Ozzy Osbourne behind the microphone, and you have a pretty good idea of what Portland, Oregon-based rockers Witch Mountain sound like. The old-school rock vibe is straight out of that heyday of rock music, and has a solid analog production to complete that sense. But it's transformed by crushing heaviness. In short, this is the absolute best proto-metal album that was never released when it should have been, 40-plus years ago. Inspired drumming, soulful guitar solos and gorgeous vocals separate Witch Mountain from the rest of the Sabbath imitators on "South Of Salem." Singer Uta Plotkin's vocals range from nearly spoken-word on tracks like "South Sugar," to the soaring high vocals on "Wing Of The Lord." There's a soulfulness to her tone that accentuates the blues beginnings of the doom genre in all kinds of wonderful ways. Guitarist Rob Wrong's riffs are thick and meaty, with an appealing looseness in his playing that's especially obvious on "Plastic Cage," as his guitar part snakes around Plotkin's vocals. His wah-wah-soaked solo on "End Game" is pure brilliance. You practically feel the strings digging into his fingers. Drummer Nate Carson's performance also stands out, with the kind of jazzy looseness that defined Bill Ward's style on early Sabbath tracks like "The Wizard." 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. South of Salem incorporates the band's intensely dosed musical madness with the enchanting fury of Plotkin's vocals that, for lack of any better word, are simply bewitching. Punishing slabs of phlegmatic, groove laden grunge lying cheek to jowl with some beautifully light headed moments in the vein of classic Sabbath and especially Welsh rockers, Budgie. An unyielding force that slowly oozes out of the speakers, carrying jagged riffs and trudging rhythms that stretch on for upward of 12 minutes per song. Sabbath, Hendrix, Goatsnake: Witch Mountain’s roots are clear. Plotkin draws from a lineage of white female soul singers from Janis Joplin to Joss Stone. But she doesn’t sound like those names. When I hear her, I know it’s her. Her singing is raw and free, hitting notes as needed, but exploring melisma, off-the-cuff embellishments, and Hendrix-style speak-singing. Guitarist Rob Wrong sounds like Hendrix so much, it’s dangerous – until one realizes that the context is new: Hendrix in a doom band. Nate Carson doesn’t drum so much as massage riffs, subtly applying fingers and wood and metal. Yet at one crest, he shifts on top of the beat, really hammering it down, and the contrast is brutal. So many bands are pedal-to-the-metal from the get-go. That’s brutal only in its dullness. When I step out after a day of computer screens into the sunshine, I feel like a human being again. When I put away my MP3s of digital shit and put on this oaken beauty, I feel likewise. 1. Wing of the Lord - 2. Plastic Cage - 3. South Sugar - 4. End Game - 5. Hare's Stare - 6. End Game (slight return) - Support Witch Mountain by purchasing the album here
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