I had to check Wikipedia twice to make sure Witch Mountain actually come from Portland, Oregon. It would be so beautifully fitting if they hailed from Salem. Maybe it’s their moniker. Maybe it’s the fact their first album proper in 2011 was titled “South of Salem”. Maybe it’s the astonishingly powerful female vocals and the fact they’re as heavy as a ducked witch in a hessian sack. “Cauldron of the Wild”, the second album to be fronted by the formidable Uta Plotkin, is bluesy, slow, doom of the highest order.
The rite begins with a Sabbath riff, all trilled hammer-ons and bent pinch harmonics with pentatonic soloing worthy of Iommi himself. Then that voice howls out of the speakers like a force of supernature. It’s an unusual pairing, doom metal with female vocals, but there needs to be more if this album is any indicator. Three names come to mind when listening to Uta Plotkin: Janis Joplin, Sandy Denny and Aretha Franklin, all legends in their own fields of blues, folk and soul. Now imagine those pipes bellowing over some classic early Pentagram and you get an idea of the wonderful potential this band is realising.
For the most part the music on offer here is mid-tempo doom – not funeral pace but not the groovy riffing of mid-era Cathedral. ‘Shelter’ is a slow blues but the doom trappings make it something a bit more special. The down-tuned guitars, the pervading ominous sense of foreboding, the reverb-laden squall of guitar feedback. When Plotkin harmonises with her lead it’s like a twisted soulful gospel choir, the Supremes if they had grown up in a coven. The last 2 minutes of ‘Shelter’ pick up the pace with some heavy riffing and growled vocals from the wonderfully named guitarist Rob Wrong.
Just when you thought things weren’t earth-shatteringly epic enough, the last two songs make up the album’s final 20 minutes. ‘Aurelia’ is just shy of 12 minutes. Beginning with a slow blues, it gradually gains momentum and wouldn’t be out of place on a P.J. Harvey album until the end section when the spirit of Iommi reappears to lend some doomy riffs and a beautiful acoustic outro.
The final track, ‘Never Know’, follows the same blueprint as ‘Shelter’ and ‘Aurelia’ – soulful, heavy, slow blues that coalesces into heavy doom. Herein lies the problem. This is a superb album but there is a hint of sameiness which I’d like them to address and shake up a bit for subsequent releases. I can’t fault the sound of this band, the atmosphere they create, the wonderful blend of blues and doom, but they need to invest a little more in their compositions. There just isn’t enough variety on offer so that by the time ‘Never Know’ comes around you know exactly how it’s going to flow.
I heartily recommend “Cauldron of the Wild” for its unusual take on doom metal. If you’re a fan of that genre then this is without doubt one of the year’s best releases. I do hope that for their third album they mature as songwriters and bubble up a more potent potion from the fine ingredients they have at their disposal.