I was going to start this review by wondering if it wasn’t about time Portland, Oregon’s Witch Mountain received the attention of the wider rock community they so richly deserve. The current incarnation have released three albums of wonderful, bluesy doom metal over the past five years. What has set them apart has been the incredible voice of lead singer Uta Plotkin – it is a rich and fabulous thing that swings from the pure folky tones of Sandy Denny to the gritty, beautiful blues growl of Shelby Lynne. It is without doubt one of the finest in hard rock and in itself enough of a reason to check out Witch Mountain, before you even consider their classy and inventive take on doom metal. It is then such a shame to report that Plotkin has decided to leave the band after their current North American tour supporting Nik Turner’s Hawkwind. I really thought “Mobile of Angels” might be the album to push the band into the spotlight, and of course it may do, but if it does it will be a bittersweet experience for all involved.
First up is the extravagant ‘Psycho Animundi’, the heaviest thing here. It punches at you with chanted vocals, a spiky spoken word passage and dangerously hypnotic drums which are painfully slow and heavy. It has you praying for release but instead the song drops to a series of willowy, Gothic pauses before suddenly ending. It is ambitious and complicated but with a strong emotional heft and it is one hell of an introduction!
However, the twin peaks that this album are built on are the next two tracks – ‘Can’t Settle’ and ‘Your Corrupt Ways (Sour The Hymn)’. ‘Can’t Settle’ is a restless, languorous itch of bluesy carnality that reaches parts doom metal never normally even considers. That mood darkens unexpectedly as the band slip into blackened doom, Plotkin coming on like Linda Blair in ‘The Exorcist’ before hitting ridiculous high notes as their sexy swing returns. “Mobile of Angels” is a break-up album in the more traditional sense too, with most of the songs detailing the inner thoughts of a partner coming to the conclusion that they want out of a relationship. ‘Your Corrupt Ways…’ is the slowest, most contemplative thing here; hymn-like, funnily enough, and if not for its bleakness of tone would be hard pressed to be tagged as metal at all.
The title track is a much briefer, semi-spoken word slice of fairground spookiness, more Stephen King than ‘Scooby Doo’, dominated by ominous keyboard work with a melody that oddly recalls ‘Village Green’ by The Kinks.
The last actual Witch Mountain song is ‘The Shape Truth Takes’, a beautiful song of sorrow whose grimy doom riffs at the end startle after you have been soothed by the purity that precedes it. Equally startling is the closing cover of ‘Don’t Look Around’ by Mountain, a bonus track whose swirling Hammond sound and funky tom-toms are much snazzier and showbiz than anything else on the album. You can feel the band put their shoulders back, relax and just rock out here and it is a clever and welcome change of pace.
Witch Mountain are now on the lookout for a new singer. That is one hell of a pair of shoes for someone to step into, and one hell of a legacy to face for whomever steps up. As for Uta Plotkin, I can’t wait to hear what she does next. In the meantime we have “Mobile of Angels”, not just doom metal album of the year but quite probably metal album of the year. Essential.