The whole lady doom craze had left me baffled. Royal Thunder? Yawn. Christian Mistress? Pfft. Witch Mountain? Pah!
Yet when my esteemed fellow explorer of the heavy Sawtooth Wave cracked open a banana beer and waxed lyrical about Witch Mountain’s latest, I vowed to give Cauldron of the Wild a fair crack of the whip.
So I set aside my d-beat and got my doom on and I tell you… its feels GOOODDDD!
Cauldron of the Wild hardly tears up the blueprint laid out by last year’s breakout South of Salem, which left me cold, so it’s hard to put my finger on what makes this record such a killer.
This post would be a bit pointless if I didn’t try though wouldn’t it?
Perhaps it’s the way the riffs fold in on themselves as if they are being slowly kneaded like bread.
Or maybe the way I can draw its comforting weight around me like a blanket.
Could it be the songs’ wonderful lazy lope and shuffle that’s far removed from the pedestrian trudge of so much workaday doom?
Doom is so often murky. Yet in no way is Cauldron of the Wild monochrome music: there is shifting colour and texture to the guitar tone while Uta Plotkin’s rich, powerful voice swoops, soars and growls.
While it can be very rewarding, depending on your state of mind, doom can be, well, boring.
My patience is never tested on Cauldron for the Wild. Not only is there great variety from song to song but also within the individual songs themselves.
It has songs that actually go somewhere with subtle shifts in mood, tone and tempo rather than just riding Sabbath knock-off riffs into the ground.
Second song Beekeeper is an early highlight and covers a fair bit of ground, exploring darker and more sinister atmospheres with its occasionally rasping vocals, as it builds up to a portentous ritualistic climax.
Yet there is a shift with the very next song Shelter, which sways almost seductively with a smoky doom-soul that so sharply contrasts and while still complementing the swirling occultism that came immediately before.
Witch Mountain love to draw you in, stripping things right back to the most minimal instrumentation and Uta’s stunning voice before kicking you right in the nuts.
Shelter pulls this off perfectly. In the final minutes, a herd of tasty gallops signal a fantastic change-up to set the stage for Uta to pull it out of the bag and tip this song over into the genuinely epic.
That’s all without even the faintest whiff of cheese.
Album centrepiece the 11-minute Aurelia takes this technique even further. The first act is quite delicate both in the finger-picked guitar and the vocals that could almost be Chelsea Girl-era Nico.
So strong yet otherworldly, Uta’s voice almost brings a tear to my eye it’s so wistful (I said almost). This is a very different in mood from the stirring epics that surround it.
Witch Mountain threaten to drop the hammer a couple of times but tease the listener with the barest hint of a riff only to pull back.
Over 11 minutes, there really is the space to unfurl a narrative as the song becomes darker and more muscular with rolling drum fills patiently but forcefully cranking up the tension.
The final minute of Aurelia encapsulates why I love this record. As it winds down, there is a little guitar figure that could have come from a Pavement album followed by some country-tinged guitar strumming. There’s a real sense of adventure while still being clearly a doom record.
The final song Never Know hammers this home. The most bluesy and smoky song of all: just barely-there snare hits and minimal guitar while Uta croons “Oh baby, what’s your doom?“
Witch Mountain are so doom they are not afraid to step completely outside the idiom… only of course to lure you in for one last sucker punch, smacking you round the face with a great wodge of doom to close out the record.
There is not a single weak track. While Veil of the Forgotten might at first feel like the runt of the litter, only for Uta to rescue it with a perfectly pitched wail for a king-hit to leave you blinking, stunned and defenceless in the face of yet another stunning climax.
damn doom soulful.