Sunday, February 19, 2006
by Steve Mangione
J Mascis (of Dinosaur Jr. notoriety) has returned to the drum kit to propel the massive prehistoric heaviness of Witch. Rounded out by singer Kyle Thomas and guitarist Asa Irons (both from Vermont-based avant-folk group Feathers) and Mascis’s long-time friend Dave Sweetapple on bass, Witch’s debut perfectly encapsulates the tone and groove of 70s hard rock without reducing their sound to derivative and predictable rehash.
Opening with the larger-than-life riff of "Seer," Witch quickly sets an intense pace for the album that never lets up. At nearly 8 minutes it’s the longest track on the album, but just barely begins to introduce the musical ideas ahead. "Soul Of Fire" starts with an upbeat verse/chorus structure that melts away into reverb-soaked layered solos, consuming nearly the last half of the song. "Black Saint" starts with mid-paced melodic guitar and bass interplay that eventually graduates to a frantic gallop. Darker and more subdued elements can be heard in "Changing" and "Isadora."
Irons lifts some of the folk influence of Feathers, runs it through a fuzz box and wah-wah, and spits out molten hot guitar licks that are busy but never excessive. Thomas’s vocals are clean and calm, floating along gently in contrast with the hard-hitting manic flow of the music. Lyrically, he delves into black magic, mountains and folklore, taking an approach similar to early Black Sabbath mixed with contemporary American folk themes (take "Rip Van Winkle," for instance).
Witch conjures compositions that range from pounding charges to delicate eerie passages, invoking dark forests and fog-topped mountains. Their debut is a bubbling cauldron overflowing with intoxicating vintage rock. One listen, and you’ll be spellbound.