Raucous, aggressive doom metal with female vocals? Sure, why the hell not. Joining such similar female fronted acts as Jex Thoth and Blood Ceremony, San Francisco’s power trio Castle have arrived to carve out their own slice of the retro doom pie (which is pumpkin in case you were wondering). Their debut In Witch Order is a surprisingly refreshing platter that harkins back to the glory days of Witchfinder General and Trouble with just a pinch of Cathedral tossed in like an eye of newt. That last ingredient may be the most important and unlike the others in this niche genre, Castle brings down the witch hammer hard with slashing, bruising riffs and a go-for-the-jugular approach that almost seems untoward for a doom troupe. All I can say is, it works well and makes In Witch Order another happy surprise in a year full of them.
You’ll see what I mean about the hammer as soon as “Descent of Man” kicks off. Its a straight forward barn burner with relentless heavy doom riffing courtesy of Mat Davis. Elizabeth Blackwell’s vocals alternate between a menacing snarl and more melodic but still edgy singing. Her delivery instantly reminded me of Tam Simpson of the mega-obscure U.K. doomsters Sacrilege and Castle‘s overall sound and style is very similar to the one they employed on their exceptional 87’ release Within the Prophecy (which is very much worth hunting down for fans of rough edged doom). The main riff pattern in “Descent” is great and they just beat you silly with it as Ms. Blackwell goes back and forth between evil and mysterious. “Fire in the Sky” has a more traditional, grinding doom style that maintains their rough-hewn, ugly ethos and the vocals really elevate the song. The best moments come with the one-two punch of “Slaves of the Pharaoh” and “Knife in the Temple” which are both outstanding heavy doom numbers with a great deal of heft, punch and power. Impressive riff work abounds and the vocal trade offs between Blackwell and one of her male counterparts (I’m unsure who it is) are well done. The vocals on “Knife in the Temple” are particularly effective and chilling at times. These folks know the way to write compelling, emotional doom with a hard edge and as I always say, songcraft is the one true king. OK, I never said that exact phrase but I’m gonna from now on.
Probably the next best feature here besides the songcraft is the raw, old school production. Its a tad muddled, a bit soupy and a scosche messy but damn, it fits the music so well. The guitar tone is lethal and there’s a fat low end rumble that really kicks up the power quotient. The crudeness of the mix won’t impair your enjoyment at all, its not that kind of bad. Its the good kind of bad that makes heavy music seem heavier.
On the negative side, while the second half of In Witch Order has a few gems (“Shaman Wars,” “Devil’s Castle”), there are some tracks that aren’t quite up to the standards of the above mentioned highlights. While nothing is filler, some are a little underwhelming (“Total Betrayal,” “Butcher of Los Angeles”). Its still a fun listen and the more pedestrian tracks are still enjoyable.
Castle have done themselves proud with their debut and leave me looking forward to hearing more. I love their sound and when they hit the mark, they approach greatness. More fun than a village witch burning (bring the marshmallows for the kiddies) and suitable for all aspiring Witchfinder Generals, witch hunters and warlocks, Castle is the real deal in doom.