Monday, 25 August 2014

Witch Mountain - Mobile of Angels (Album Review)

Album Type: Full Length
Date Released: 2/10/2014
Label: Svart Records

Mobile of Angels” CD/LP Tracklisting:

1. Psycho Animundi 08:47
2. Can’t Settle 08:51
3. Your Corrupt Ways, (Sour the Hymn) 10:27
4. Mobile of Angels 03:29
5. The Shape Truth Takes 07:02


In 2009, Uta Plotkin added her voice to Witch Mountain in front of a triumphant sold out crowd at Portland, OR's venerable club Satyricon. Supporting Pentagram—East coast godfathers of American doom who also took far too long to receive their rightful due—Plotkin brought the necessary ingredient that Witch Mountain founders Rob Wrong and Nate Carson had been seeking since they initially formed the group back in 1997.

Originally far out of step with the lazy, indie-rock scene in Portland, guitarist Wrong and drummer Carson sought to put their own stamp on the tradition of doom metal as laid down by Black Sabbath, Candlemass, Trouble, and Saint Vitus. Years of road work in support of peers such as High on Fire, Spirit Caravan, Electric Wizard, YOB, Weedeater, Eyehategod, and all the rest had granted Witch Mountain a solid footnote in the history of one of music’s heaviest genres. And though real life careers took the band largely out of commission between 2003 and 2008, Plotkin’s emergence kicked the band back into a high gear that shows no signs of waning.

With renewed vigor, WM returned to the studio to capture the long-awaited sophomore album South of Salem. Produced by master “engine-ear” Billy Anderson (Sleep, Neurosis, Melvins), the record was self-released by the band on vinyl, and shortly thereafter recognized as the "#4 Best Metal Album of 2011" by NPR. With a SXSW showcase, west coast tours with Christian Mistress and Wino project Premonition 13, and a massively downloaded Adult Swim compilation under its belt, Witch Mountain proved its modern work ethic and soon signed up with dream label Profound Lore.

The Band:

Uta Plotkin | Vocals
Rob Wrong | Guitar
Nathan Carson | Percussion
Charles Dingus | Bass


It’s no secret that the Pacific Northwest has been a hotbed of talent for decades. Ask any metal head to name one of their favorite bands and you’re sure to get a namedrop of at least one group from anywhere below the Columbia River Gorge all the way up to the Cascades Mountains. For those of us here on the opposite side of the United States, (or even farther in the case of our British readers,) the Portland area has become a bit of a heavy music mecca. In addition to its rich history of punk/metal hybrids, like Final Warning, Poison Idea, and The Wipers, this area is also home to some of the best contemporary heavy bands around. Red Fang, YOB, Agalloch, Lord Dying, just to name a few, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. One band in particular has been shining like a distant star over a black sea, gaining praise far and wide for bringing an especially unique brand to an already beloved scene. They are greeted with open arms at worldwide festivals, have been featured numerous times on National Public Radio, and have even garnished recognition in mainstream music magazines, like SPIN. That band is the great Witch Mountain.

You may ask, “What is it that makes Witch Mountain so special?” and it’s not an entirely outrageous question to ask. After all, they’re a doom band and there are plenty of doom bands around. They have a female singer, which also isn’t exactly an uncommon thing these days. Still, most fans would probably come nowhere close to scrutinizing Witch Mountain in such a manner, because upon that initial moment you hear the band’s sound, which is ample, lumbering and occasionally hallucinogenic, chances are you will no longer be searching for anything typical in regards to their music. On the contrary, you’ll more than likely develop an instantaneous longing for their dynamic song structures, which range from Nathan Carson’s perfectly clocked rhythms, the low end rumble of Charles Dingus, Rob Wrong’s thick, delicious Stratocaster tones and slashing leads, producer Billy Anderson’s rich depth and clarity, and of course–perhaps more of a standout than anything else–Uta Plotkin’s voice. It’s hard to imagine even the most dogmatic metal fans taking issue with her singing. She can be sweet like nectar. She can growl like a demon. She can effortlessly push her multiple octave range from soothing, bluesy lows to grandiose, operatic highs. Uta’s voice, if I may temporarily borrow a description from everyone’s favorite fictional psychopath, Alexander DeLarge, is “gorgeousness and gorgeousity made flesh.”

The band’s latest offering, “Mobile of Angels,” begins with an explosive intro that immediately segues into the slow swagger of “Psycho Animundi.” Once you’re locked into the sway of that seemingly simple riff, Uta’s voice comes in chanting at a low, gruff register. As the song builds into some fantastic guitar playing, courtesy of Rob Wrong, Uta shifts her voice between bluesy, southern drawls to masterful, harmonic high notes. “Psycho Animundi” could probably be viewed as the representative track for Witch Mountain’s music in general. It has all of the elements their fans enjoy. It’s heavy as fuck, it’s psychedelic without employing studio trickery or excessive guitar effects, it has killer stop-on-a-dime dynamics, and it’s good and long, clocking in at nearly nine minutes. However, where Witch Mountain truly succeed, and where many other doom bands do not, is in their ability to engage listeners throughout the entirety of their lengthy tunes. In fact, when “Psycho Animundi” comes to its close, you’ll wonder if it’s truly the end.

The second track, “Can’t Settle,” provides Uta with the chance to showcase her death metal growls and also grants Rob Wrong and Nathan Carson the opportunity to prove they’re not solely reliant on playing at high volume. Rob’s airy guitar chords show us that he knows when not to play, and it also gives us a chance to truly hear Carson’s subtle moments, (not to mention, it’s at these moments when Billy Anderson’s stellar production is front and center. Carson’s cymbals sound top notch). This subtle flow also takes us into the album’s midpoint, the stunning “Your Corrupt Ways.” For my money, this may be the best song the band has ever written, (and yes, I am including every song from “South of Salem” and “Cauldron of the Wild” in that bold statement.) A tune like this proves that Witch Mountain will always be a standout band because they realize one vitally important thing. They know how to write a truly powerful song. I’m talking about a stop-you-dead-in-your-tracks kind of song. They also know how to utilize each individual talent within the band to bring the song’s power to light. “Your Corrupt Ways” is dark, understated and bluesy without sounding remotely redundant nor commonplace. It also achieves that ever so difficult balance of being heavy while maintaining a mellow and relaxed vibe at the same time. Nathan Carson and bassist, Charles Dingus, provide sufficient evidence that a tight rhythm section need not rely on flash and irregularity. Uta’s voice has never sounded stronger than it does here. She’s tuneful, spirited, and adds just the right amount of vibrato and provocation to the overall melody of the music. There may even be some voices other than Uta’s providing some “Oooh’s” and “Ah’s.” Guitarists will be in awe of Rob’s remarkable tones and his careful arrangement of drones, atmosphere, and attack. All in all, this is a song about isolation, guilt, and heartache, and it may be one of the best songs you’ve heard in a long, long while. After “Your Corrupt Ways,” we come upon the title track. It’s a surprisingly short number that takes us into some rather creepy territory with heavily reverbed, harmonized organ sounds and a bad dream narrative courtesy of Uta. This one is sure to be a hit for lovers of all things dark and ambient. The closing number, “The Shape Truth Takes,” brings the record to a somber, reflective ending. Beautiful vocal harmonies, excellent loud/quiet progressions, and incredibly soulful guitar leads.

“Mobile of Angels,” with its five song, 38 minute length, is a well planned and perfectly executed work of art that will certainly be viewed as a career high for Witch Mountain. However, it must be mentioned that during the time of this review, I learned Uta Plotkin will be parting from the band once they finish touring in support of this record. All reports seem to confirm amiability between everyone in the group, and longtime original members, Rob Wrong and Nathan Carson, have no intentions of stopping, (they have stated that they will be auditioning singers when the time is right). As a fan who always viewed Witch Mountain as a special, standout band in the world of heavy music, this unfortunate news for me, particularly given my love for Uta’s singing and her raw talent. However, it goes without saying that Witch Mountain is more than a sum of their parts, and that their unique and wonderful music will not cease with Uta’s departure. Regardless of what may come of the band, we still have “Mobile of Angels” and all their previous offerings. And those are forever.

Words by:  Erik Sugg

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