Thanks to a job that requires me to travel frequently, I spend an inordinate amount of time on trains. This allows me ample opportunity to sample whatever promo delight I happen to be attached to, but it also affords said artist a particular challenge – namely, can you draw my attention from the hell that is public transport. Between the droves of marauding spawn tearing up and down the aisle and the fuck-knuckle proudly standing in the middle of everything with his fucking bicycle, sweet riffs are all that separate the general public and an omni-directional wave of misanthropy, and Scotland’s King Witch have them. Doom is the game, but there’s more than one classic influence on debut, Under the Mountain, boasting a whiskey-soaked attitude and plenty of flair. Just before my blood pressure destroyed all existence, I settled down to penetrate exactly what it is Under the Mountain represents… which is actually an oddly beguiling dichotomy.
King Witch‘s style is drawn mostly from that burgeoning era when bands were daring to slow down the feral tempos of thrash. There’s more than enough self-assured swagger in the songs, though, as the Scots’ brand of earthy doom is covered in a hard rock rime exemplified by vocalist, Laura Donnelly. I’ll make no bones about this, these are some of the best clean vocals I’ve heard in recent memory, regardless of gender. Her effortlessly powerful delivery slips between a husky realism and deceptive nuance, lashed on by a charioteer of immaculate vibrato that only Messiah Marcolin could match. The Moby Dick themed “Beneath the Waves” is all the better for her controlled voice working in tandem with guitarist, Jamie Gilchrist’s, Candlemass inspired rhythms and surprisingly shred-worthy solo.
Under the Mountain excels when it fully embraces Laura’s ability and tapers the songs to fit her considerable talent. “Solitary” and “Approaching the End” are two of the album’s best, mostly because they showcase immediate vocal hooks amongst a collection of serpentine riffs and introspective leads, the latter minutely channelling the gothic classicism and inherent substance of early Sabbath. Gilchrist makes his own statement, particularly on the bluesy “Hunger” with an array of swirling psychedelic notes in the bridge. These victories are unprecedented, so it’s jarring when some of the material doesn’t quite stack up. To be clear, there’s no “bad” song on this record, but on the occasion where the band decide to let a more upbeat tempo off the chain, the quality takes something of a dip. While Under the Mountain is mostly comprised of slower speeds – and therefore better songs – two or three of the album’s final tracks just don’t have anything of their better’s character. Now, King Witch have the riffs, of this there can be no doubt, but certain technical faux pas tend to conspire against their potency. These high-energy numbers – “Possession” is fundamentally a thrash track – have a tendency to push Donnelly’s voice back in the mix, and coupled with a slight, but questionable, echo effect on her vocals and the enthusiastic fills of drummer, Lyle Brown, the heavier guitar tone is rendered a little flat, and thus the material blurs into one. As a result, these latter tracks, while qualitatively fine, have a tendency to bloat, and, frankly, I don’t think you’re ready for this jelly.
The success of King Witch is tantamount to great songwriting, a commodity I am becoming increasingly enamored with as age continues to bush my beard and skin my knuckles. The restraint and musicianship of the record’s highlights go a long way in masking the bathos of the album’s faceless finale. “Ancients” is almost exclusively acoustic, boasting a soulful powerhouse performance by Donnelly with enough true grit to straighten John Wayne’s gait. These are the indelible moments that help to transcend any egregious entries and make for a compelling play-through, despite the record’s limp last steps.
Under the Mountain proved itself more than capable of holding my attention, and aside from a few niggles born of nascence, came packed full of glaring ability. There is a stellar release hanging in the ether just begging to be recorded by this monarch of maleficarum, and while Under the Mountain isn’t quite it, my radar is now primed and ready to receive. As it is, King Witch‘s debut is a subtly flawed but inherently enjoyable album and one I continue to appreciate. Highly recommended for fans of classic doom and a name I expect to be a lot more prominent in the ensuing years.