By: Daniel Jackson
Date Released: 25/7/2015
Old Witch is full of drone and borderline funeral doom. Keyboards swell over guitars part that recall Sunn O))) or, more accurately, Teeth of Lions Rule The Divine. There's nothing pretty or subtle about Keeper’s approach, and that’s likely for the best. If there’s anyone doing this sort of ugly, miserable dirge any better they’re obscure enough that I haven’t found them
‘Old/Witch/Keeper’ CS//DD track listing:
1. The Vague Fears That Bother My Waking Life Regarding The Inevitability Of Death And What May Or May Not Lie Beyond
2. Broken Soil On An Early Grave
3. A Gathering Of Strangers Who Knew The Deceased But Not Too Well
1. Four Walls; A Home
2. With or Without Pt. 1, 2 & 3
Old Witch is:
Stephen H. Heyerdahl | Everything
Jacob Lee | Guitar, Bass, Vocals
Penny Keats | Guitars, Drums, Vocals
I tend to look at split releases as two EPs on one release. The reason being that the bands involved are usually different enough that the album doesn’t flow together cohesively, thus making the album a sort of double feature rather than one whole album. While that is still the case on this split cassette release from Old Witch and Keeper, the two halves work well in tandem together, making for a less disruptive experience when listening to the whole album. If you happen to prefer one band’s contribution over the other, that’s likely accounting for personal taste rather than talent and creative ability, as both bands contribute to their specific niches exceedingly well.
Where the bands differ most is in how much they opt to diversify their songs. Old Witch, over the course of four songs, plays with softer dynamics and various styles. The opening song, “The Vague Fears That Bother My Waking Life Regarding The Inevitability Of Death And What May Or May Not Lie Beyond”, is full of drone and borderline funeral doom. Keyboards swell over guitars part that recall Sunn O))) or, more accurately, Teeth of Lions Rule The Divine. Things take some abrupt turns from there, with “Broken Soil On An Early Grave” having the sort of barbaric death metal riffs and drumbeats you might expect from Coffins, although the keyboards still play a massive role here as well. “A Gathering of Strangers” is more like the softer moments of a Sleepytime Gorilla Museum album than may have been intended, but it works as a way to break things up before “Gallows” brings things full circle back to the sound of the opener.
Where the Old Witch side is more diverse and layered, Keeper is laser focused on the sort of caustic doom that’s had people talking from the beginning. There's nothing pretty or subtle about Keeper’s approach, and that’s likely for the best. If there’s anyone doing this sort of ugly, miserable dirge any better, they’re obscure enough that I haven’t found them. The recipe is the same as it’s been since ‘MMXIV’, with the more traditional doom of a band like Grief colliding with the wretched corrosiveness equal to that of Khanate, whose first two albums are absolute landmarks of the genre. What it's missing in variety, it makes up for in sheer power. Having said that “With or Without pt. 1, 2 & 3” is perhaps the band’s most nuanced and well crafted song to date, with a lengthy middle section bringing a deep, rich atmosphere that sees Keeper is willing to expand their sound in a meaningful and logical way.
Which brings us back to that earlier point about these two bands playing well together. There’s more than enough to satisfy fans of either band, and both bands approach their corners of the broader doom genre admirably. However, being the greedy sort that I am, I’d love to hear a collaborative effort. I think these two halves would do an incredible job of rounding out each others’ sounds. If nothing else, these two bands could learn from what each band offers that other doesn’t. Old Witch would benefit from gaining some of Keeper’s commanding sonic aura and more powerful recording quality. Keeper, while starting to broaden their horizons already might take something from Old Witch’s ability to hit a number of different emotional tones and expanded instrumental range. Each band is on strong ground, putting out high quality music. But as great as they are, each band also highlights some opportunities to for the other to grow into something even better.