King Witch - Under The Mountain - (8/10)
Published on February 12, 2018
Scottish doom metallers King Witch have returned after three years, this time with a full-length album. I have been a fan since I first heard their wonderful chemistry on their debut EP, Shoulders of Giants, so when I recently heard they were going to have a full-length out, I was eager to pick it up. And then, after a full listen, I sat in my chair perplexed, wondering what happened since this was pretty far from what I expected. It’s not so much that they changed styles as it is that this album is just so much heavier than what I was expecting. It was huge; it was crushing; it was just massive in every way. But was it any better? I didn’t think so.
After a few more listens, I started to reconsider. Because even though this is a substantial departure, and even though I was disappointed, this album still shows a remarkable maturity and depth not found on the EP. Superficially, it would be easy to describe this album as heavier, denser, and thicker and then stop there, but I think such a description – accurate as it may be – doesn’t do justice to real differences that lie beneath the surface.
I think the reason it took several listens to delve into this album is that its density isn’t just a matter of over-fuzzed guitar riffs and a violent rhythm section. It’s that every member of this band contributes such palpably thick layers to the mix that I quickly found myself overwhelmed in a fray of competing and interlocking musical parts, each one taking its place front and centre for a time before retreating to the background. On the first listen, I could hardly take in the sound; it was a bit like trying to eat an entire steak with one bite and no chewing allowed. After a while though, I started to hear the construction of each song a little more clearly, and that’s where I really started to appreciate the growth that King Witch has demonstrated with this release.
The depth of the compositions was probably what impressed me the most. And I’m not talking about making the music busy merely for the sake of having busy music. What I mean is that there is a contrapuntal interplay between the riffs and the bass player, and between those two and the vocalist, and again between all of them and the percussionist. The songwriting is daring and adventurous: each instrument is given room to explore its position in the songs and the members of the band exploit each part to its fullest, yet without venturing into the realm of needless showmanship. It is this approach that led me to find greater and greater appreciation to this album with each listen. Every time I went back through, I heard something I didn’t hear the previous time, and each new listen I found myself marvelling at the landing of each successive layer with every measure and phrase. The mesmerising opening to “Carnal Sacrifice” is the perfect example of this, as it is replete with complex bass lines, intoxicating guitar fills, epic chromatic vocal lines, and a percussionist whose wild creativity keeps the song moving and engaging.
I do have one complaint, though, and that is that Laura’s voice is just a hair too low in the mix. I get that King Witch wanted to ramp up this release. I can get behind the faster riffs, the more complex song construction, and the heavier and doomier overall sound. And it’s not like Laura herself didn’t step up to the task – she totally does and it’s everything you would expect. Except that apart from a few tracks, her voice gets drowned out by everything else and it’s frustrating. But not to harp on this too much, because there are still cuts like “Beneath the Waves” and “Ancients” where she’s got her best foot forward and doesn’t get quite so eclipsed by the rest of the band. For other tracks that show the band’s uncanny chemistry, look no further than “Solitary” and the title track.
I don’t imagine that this album is everyone’s standard fare by a long shot. Both heavy and doom metal fans may be put off by the sound, whilst some people who typically avoid those genres in favour of power metal may find that they enjoy this a lot more than they expected to. Whatever the case may be, don’t write this one off after just one listen, because there’s a lot more to it than you might think.