How you feel about “Unmountable Stairs”, the new album by Austria’s Witchrider, will depend on a couple of factors; how big a fan of Queens of the Stone Age you are and how comfortable you are with enjoying the wholesale co-opting of their sound by another band. Well, to be fair there are times the songs drift into the melodic seventies rock-meets-radio-friendly punk of the Foo Fighters, but that’s hardly going to shock and appall those ready to take the journey.
However, in general if someone were to sidle up to you and offer you a bootleg of an unreleased QOTSA album this is pretty much what you’d be happy to expect. Sophisticated stoner rock with falsetto vocals and an occasional chilly motorik twist? Big fucking tick.
“Unmountable Stairs”, which sounds like an nightmarish advertisement for a Stannah stairlift, eschews the more manic Nick Oliveri-era of QOTSA and is a blend of the clammy desert rock of the band’s debut and the punchier, cleaner alt rock of “Like Clockwork”. I love QOTSA, so why is this album merely goodish rather than a sort of unexpected but brilliant bonus for fans of the Joshua Homme sound? Well, groovy as this all is the songs are almost entirely lacking in the waspish wit and more left field sensibilities of the ginger desert god.
‘Far From You’ could be an outtake from “Songs For the Deaf” and its gritty, loping riffs are spine-tinglingly close to transcending its influences and just being out right fantastic. ‘I’m Outta Breath’ has a melody and classy production Homme or Dave Grohl would be proud of and gets as close as this album gets to melodic hard rock heaven. Melancholy and uplifting, it’s a keeper. Elsewhere, though, things are too blatant a steal to really take seriously; ‘The Fog’ is such a gigantic theft of Homme‘s clanking robot rock stylings as to be a piss take and is almost enough to put you off the whole affair.
There are enough pluses overall to make this album more than tolerable, even sporadically very good (the spirited and odd ‘1 For 5’ closes out the album with great aplomb) but the band need to go and absorb a few more influences if they want the next record to sound like the work of cool and smart musicians rather than cunning artificers.