The years have not been kind to Electric Wizard. After the monumental fuzz-fest Dopethrone, the band’s quality has slowly scooted downhill, owing allegedly to drama behind the scenes causing the band to coast endlessly. Drummer Mark Greening left after a high-strung tour in 2003 and, though he briefly rejoined in the early 2010s, in the end he decided to follow his heart to greener pastures. This quest ended with the founding of Dead Witches, whose sophomore slab of burly stoner-doom lands this month. Can Greening avoid the spell of mediocrity that has afflicted his alma mater?
Sadly, not entirely. While I’ve been told by my indomitable colleague Huck ‘n Roll that debut Ouija was quite good, the same cannot be said here. And the problems are not too dissimilar from Electric Wizard’s issues either: repetition and lack of evolution in the song structures, failing to build towards anything. The tracks are as dynamic as bedrock, ending on pretty much the same level as intensity as they started, with little to no variation in between. Nor is there a great deal of variation between the tracks; each goes back and forth between a handful of riff-patterns, with new vocalist Soozi Chameleone (her real name!) crooning in the back. Only the intro, a 30-second clip that sounds like it was ripped from an old movie, and “When Do the Dead See The Sun” differ. The latter is not a recommendation either: a dreary two minutes of the most whiny doom-country imaginable, of which the majority of the lyrics are merely the track title.
It’s not all a wash, though. While a lot of the riffs are in the category “bare minimum,” even for stoner-doom, there’s definitely some killer material to be found, especially in the closer “Fear the Priest.” Whereas the seas across the rest of the record are flat as a mirror, this one stirs the waters and brings up the waves, the riffs crashing and rolling rather than trudging, and it makes for a very satisfying end to the record. Even the lesser riffs manage to hit thanks to the thick and heavy production, full of earth-shattering fuzz. In other layers, Chameleone is suitably rough and reminds me of Coven with her evocative, witch-like shouting and crooning, and Greening pummels the skins with dependable verve.
But the production has its own set of problems. It appears the mastering process was nine parts guitar sound, one part everything else. Particularly Soozi, despite being a major part of the composition, sounds like someone left a window to the recording room open and she’s outside with a megaphone. I never cared for this particular voice effect, but it can be effective in small doses. Here it just causes the vocals to be crowded out by the guitars, a fate the drums share as well, albeit to a lesser extent. As a counterpoint, the bass has a thrilling, grinding oomph that compliments the guitars nicely. But without the vocals and thus the lyrics getting enough spotlight, the repetitive nature of the songwriting is underlined, something no guitar sound can mask. Even that golden closer doesn’t quite escape overstaying its welcome, despite its more dynamic nature compared to the rest of the album.
The dense and heavy riffs of Dead Witches initially excited me. The guitar and bass really do sound great in all their crunchy, fuzzy glory. But that excitement quickly tapered off. The weird choice to strangle the vocals in post-production and the underwhelming songwriting creeped into my appreciation and turned it sour. Whether this is some curse Greening brought along from Electric Wizard or whether he simply ran out of steam in a hurry, I don’t know. But if it’s the latter, I hope he can recover and find new inspiration. There’s enough good stuff on The Last Exorcism to make me hopeful Dead Witches can still improve, but too little to return to it in the future.