After listening to the new self-titled album from Oregonian doom institution Witch Mountain, it makes perfect sense to hear that (relatively) new vocalist Kayla Dixon’s biggest musical inspirations are Ella Fitzgerald, Whitney Houston, and musical theater. Returning fans of the group may have been apprehensive about any replacement for Ula Plotkin, whose voice was perhaps the single greatest contributor to Witch Mountain’s sound, but man, Kayla can wail. Her powerful and charismatic voice urges on this new outing in exactly the manner it should, and while fans will certainly look back fondly on the band’s 2011-2014 run with Ula and the three albums that came out of it, it’s hard to believe that anybody will walk away less than satisfied from Witch Mountain specifically due to the new vocal talent on display.
That being said, other than the difference in vocals, it’s pretty tough to find anything to distinguish Witch Mountain from any of the previous work of the group. They know their established formula and they’re sticking to it, hell or high water. For the uninitiated, here’s what that formula entails: slow burning, stoner-inflected doom metal with a helping of molasses-slow blues influence; it’s this last part that keeps the group’s sway between plodding, tense quietude and explosive climaxes a bit more pronounced than most of their peers. Although it’s not as abrupt or in-your-face as the loud-soft switches of, say, YOB, Witch Mountain certainly has more of a variety to their sound per track than the more straightforward fuzz-loving curmudgeons of the genre, like Electric Wizard or Windhand.
It’s hard to say that sticking to what they know has really hindered Witch Mountain in any way, though: they clearly have a planned idea of what they want to be and the actual execution leaves nothing to be desired. Production- and tone-wise, everything sounds exactly like it should; every instrument stands present and accounted for and Dixon’s vocals rightfully take center stage as she builds great melodies on top of the instrumentation. And when the band does take a break from their typical fare for the shorter “Hellfire” – a welcome interlude before the 14-minute barn-burner that is “Nighthawk” – everything works just as well as their more customary fare.
The dichotomy is thus: clearly this band is able to do exactly what they want, but they don’t do anything other than what they’ve already proven themselves capable of. What this means is that it’s hard to rate Witch Mountain as either a good album or a bad album, because at the end of the day, it’s not really either. It’s a Witch Mountain album. I’d call it “fine” if that didn’t have a sort of brusque, vaguely uninterested connotation, but yeah, it’s pretty much a fine album. Established Witch Mountain fans will like Witch Mountain; stoner doom fans who haven’t yet explored the band’s discography will find a good point of entry; those who have already tried out the group and found their sound not to their liking won’t find anything here to redeem the group, unless it was specifically Plotkin’s vocals that turned them off. All in all, Witch Mountain is a perfectly serviceable piece of doom metal that, at the very least, you won’t regret listening to.
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Witch Mountain is out now through Svart Records.