Witchskull bludgeoned their way onto the metal landscape with The Vast Electric Dark a couple of years back. Having decided to spend a little bit more time on a demo than they had planned on a trip to Goatsound Studio’s in Melbourne. The demo lead to a full length album debut that got a number one on the coveted doom charts, boutique vinyl release on STB Records and a slew of great reviews the world over.
For the cliche’ of the “difficult second album” the band took the risk of going all the way to Studio G in Brooklyn, New York City with the Phil Spector of doom production, Billy Anderson and Jason Fuller from Goatsound to produce, engineer and mix the record. The album was then mastered by a couple of companies prior to landing in Dav Byrne’s lap of Melbourne band Ulva for finishing.
The 8 songs were packaged for shopping to labels with a number of key industry heavyweights bidding for the new material. When the dust settled, Rise Above Records, the label that has housed bands from the Grammy award winning Ghost (who also release an album today) to Electric Wizard, Church of Misery and Cathedral to name but a few of the doom metal pantheon that have released music with a “RA###” on the spine of their CD cover.
So all told, does the slab entitled Coven’s Will live up to the lofty company and the epic journey that produced it?
It is utterly pleasing to bold in caps, HELLS THE FUCK YEAH IT IS.
It’s hard to stand apart in a genre that is founded on fairly strict codes and conventions of Black Sabbath and a few select bands in the decades since Sabbath laid the blueprint.
The modern doom genre is arguably over saturated and a bit clogged with clones that borrow too heavily from a finite source material and the result is a lot of records that lack a certain intangible and hard to articulate energy.
Especially when limiting themselves to the aforementioned codes and conventions, particularly in terms of tempo, tonality, epic song lengths and subject matter.
Where Witchskull could likely have forged a still ascendant path in the doom metal scene sticking to the formula of their first album, risk taking and gambling on building on a strong focus on quality song writing rather than meandering through riffs for riffs sake.
Raven opens the album and offers a strong example of the above with a sub 3 minute mid paced head banger that serves to showcase the wonderful ensemble production of Studio G, Anderson, Fuller and Byrne. More so, it demonstrates the singularity of focus bassist Tony McMahon, drummer Joel Green and guitar/vocal wizard Marcus De Pasquale bought to the writing on the new album.
When quizzed on the inspiration for the lyrical and musical themes for this album, De Pasquale offered, “The occult, fantasy, dreams, the moon and the elements, isolation, loneliness, depression, mental illness, regret and time… all the good, bleak things in life!” and this is fitting for the record that follows.
That energy that is lacking is instantly firing here. The record could comfortably settled into this pattern for it’s length, but the second track brings a dynamic shift into a more considered opening pace and the first of the wonderful surprises bought back from New York on Son of the Snake.
Erica Stoltz is the vocalist of a New York traditional heavy metal band Sanhedrin and a friend of Anderson’s who basically kidnapped her and threw her into the studio to lend her talent and what a wonderful dynamic she bought to the record.
The band established through De Pasquale’s lifelong study of the occult on the first album, a deep Gnostic realness, an organic connection to the occult as opposed to a shallow prop that many metal bands add after the fact to their persona.
Stoltz and De Pasquale trade soaring lines through the song which builds to an incredible crescendo through the faster bridge section under pining the solo and latter half of the song. Arguably the albums strongest song.
Priestess follows with a doom riff any of the dirge brigade would be stoked to wield live, but few would have the craft to put the foot on the accelerator on for the absolutely glorious Sabbath inspired midsection.
Breathing Blue Light negotiates Witchskull’s skillfull balance of traditional heavy metal influences with doom metal to deliver another fantastic intro and outro riff that should keep chiropractors in business for the rest of the year with neck adjustments.
Demon Cage inspires fond memories of Kyuss era stoner rock at it’s finest before bringing in Stoltz again for killer breakdown bridge section and keeping the vocal dynamic on the record fresh.
Spyres delivers a hearty occult stomp groove that belies the darkness of the lyrics and desperate delivery of the vocal “Burning my eyes” through the chorus.
Lord of the Void delivers a cavalcade of world class riffage, face melting solo’s and lyrics that touch on those dark places De Pasquale framed above.
Speaking of lyrics, the album closer The Empty Well is an absolute fantastic creepy 70’s occult horror movie type narrative, delivered with a voice that I think will raise the bar for what vocalists do in terms of crafting a great story to their delivery along with a crotch stomping mid section and objectively spooky as hell doom banger riff to close the work out with.
This is a benchmark for Australian doom metal, a welcome burst of pride in our local Canberra produce and something I feel will be inspiring many sore necks and ringing ears for years to come. Congratulations for this effort all involved, an absolute banger and the best thing I’ve listened to in metal this year.
You can have a go for yourself at the stream over at Loudwire here