Who remembers Scion AV? Scion was a Toyota offshoot that clearly had headbanging executives in charge: for a few years they sponsored the release of tracks by metal acts ranging from Meshuggah to The Melvins. And there’s the tie-in: the first time I heard Witch Mountain was from a Scion AV download back in 2010. Those two songs became bonus tracks on a European vinyl rerelease of Cauldron of the Wild, so still relatively unknown, but they showed us what Witch Mountain were: heavy traditional doom influenced by Black Sabbath and Saint Vitus, with chillingly mesmerizing vocals courtesy of Uta Plonktin. Times change and Witch Mountain has changed as well since their last release four years ago: Plonktin has been replaced by Kayla Dixon. Will this affect this self-titled release?
Yes and no. Sabbath-y doom is still Witch Mountain’s forte, and they still do it quite well. Dixon is not a direct replacement for Plonktin: while Plonktin had the occult songstress routine down pat, Dixon is more of a blues diva with a twist. She has a fantastic voice when sticking to the blues aspects of Witch Mountain’s songs, but when they veer off a couple of times into black metal territory Dixon comes up woefully short. Thankfully, those moments can be counted on a three-fingered hand, so they don’t detract from Witch Mountain all that much. And that’s a good thing, since we’ve only got five songs to sink our teeth into — and one of them is a cover. On a short record like this, I would normally dock a point immediately for including a cover 1, but in this case, we’ve got a cover of one of my favorite bands from 50 years ago, Spirit. It’s completely bizarre to hear a female-sung doom take on the eclectic “Mechanical World,” but it’s really well done.
The four original songs here are fine tunes as well, fairly simple and trve to their influences, and very heavily based in the blues, like Sabbath themselves were. Opening track “Midnight” was released as a single last year, and the blues-at-half-speed approach combined with Dixon’s soulful, spellbinding vocals is very effective (the harsh vocals, not so much). “Burn You Down” was a single a couple of years ago, a standard traditional doom number that sounds like it would go over great live — Dixon’s rip at the three-minute mark is excellent. “Hellfire” is only a couple minutes long, but it’s a mesmerizing bluesy acoustic number with fantastic layered vocals. “Nighthawk” is the epic cut here, 14 minutes long and with plenty of crooning and some hazy guitar solos — only a couple brief spells of blackened vocals mars this slow burner.
Production is a conundrum here for me. The band sounds very earthy, as if they were recorded just with two room mics in 1972. The lo-fi approach does fit with the music, but borders on gimmicky2. The mix is loud and aggressive, with the exception of Dixon’s harsh vocals. Luckily, when she rasps out her harsh verses she becomes buried in the mix: a wise production decision. But I can’t help wondering what the songs would sound like with just a slightly more modern sheen — maybe worse, I dunno.
Witch Mountain the band shows us they’ve got the traditional doom genre down pat, and Kayla Dixon is a helluva singer as long as she doesn’t try to do too much. Witch Mountain the album is short and to the point, and with one song on a 36-minute album being a cover (albeit a very enjoyable cover for this Spirit fanboy), the amount of content is lacking, but what’s present is enjoyable and genuine, performed with vigor and earnestness. I hope this version of the band sticks together and enjoys a period of prolific writing in the near future.