December 1, 2014

Witch Mountain - Mobile of Angels

Written by Keith Ross.

Heavy metal has evolved so much in the forty-four years of its existence that it's all too easy to forget about our roots. With every blast beat and sweep arpeggio, we get further from the dirt that we rose out of, and that dirt is richer than just “rock and roll.” That soil of emotion and tension that was necessary for a genre as extreme as metal to arise was The Blues. So when I hear an album that digs into that foundation and turns up the rich, rich loam of blues music I immediately take notice. Mobile of Angels by Portland, Oregon's Witch Mountain is such an album. In fact, one could call Mobile of Angels a blues album just as easily as a doom metal one. Whatever genre lense you choose to view the album through, however, it is phenomenal.

Witch Mountain 2012. Photo © John Mourlas. All rights reserved.

The album isn't long, with only five songs and clocking in just under thirty-nine minutes. Amazingly in that thirty-nine minutes the band never repeats itself. These songs just don't have any traditional verse structure. Rob Wrong spins out amazing solos, and the guitar tone reminds me why a big ol' stack of guitar amps is such a desirable thing. Charles Thompson's bass keeps the sound amazingly fat—these guys aren't detuning to Drop-X, they're just putting pure blues into a heavy metal frame. Nathan Carson in particular impresses. Slow drumming is, in a number of ways, harder than fast drumming. When you're flying along with blasts and double bass, who really cares about your tom work or your cymbal tone? When you're going slow, every stroke is going to be heard. You can listen to this album just focusing on what Nathan does with cymbals and your time will still be well spent.

Witch Mountain 2012. Photo © John Mourlas. All rights reserved.

I'm tempted to say that vocalist Uta Plotkin is the star of the show, as her incredibly expressive voice is an essential part of what makes these songs, but that would be unfair to the rest of the band. Still, she sounds so much more comfortable singing these songs than she did on Cauldron of the Wild, an album that, while not bad, didn't stand out to me among the many other female-fronted doom releases in 2012. Not this time. The songs dig in and catch you. The start-stop of “Psycho Animundi.” The almost spoken-word beginning of “Can't Settle.” Everything here sounds intensely personal in a way that heavy metal often lacks. “Your Corrupt Ways (Sour the Hymn),” the longest track and centrepiece of the album, in particular highlights this with lyrics like this:
"I will wish you all of the best
As I walk away and relish
The sweet relief that I will feel
When I finally put my heels down."
The final two tracks are a bit different. The title track, half as long as the next longest song at only three and a half minutes, is a single drum beat away from being a witch house track. The leslie-drenched organ is absolutely haunting as Uta promises “Oh Dreamer, waking brings no comfort.” The album closer “The Shape Truth Takes” goes back to guitars, drums, and bass, but it's melancholy waltz instead of a gritty doom slammer like “Psycho Animundi.” The song hits an emotional climax that I haven't heard the likes of since Ihsahn's “Undercurrent.” The way the band builds the tension and emotion of the song using tone and volume is just phenomenal. When the guitar solo comes in it always brings tears to my eyes. “The Shape Truth Takes” isn't just the perfect song to close the album, but to close a chapter of the band's existence. It's fitting that this is the last thing that we'll ever hear from this version of Witch Mountain is a song this sad, as Uta Plotkin left the band to pursue other endeavours. I don't envy whoever ends up replacing her in the band, as they will have absolutely massive shoes to fill.

Witch Mountain 2012. Photo © John Mourlas. All rights reserved.

Nearly every time I listen to Mobile of Angels, I immediately restart the album as soon as it's ended. Jumping from “The Shape Truth Takes” back to “Psycho Animundi” is always jarring, but within a few bars I'm back in the music. It's exceptionally rare for me to get so hooked on an album these days that I play it exclusively twice or even three times in a row. With Mobile of Angels it happens nearly every time. I don't know what more to say other than that you should be listening to it right now. You'll never get the next thirty-nine minutes of your life back. You won't regret spending them on Mobile of Angels.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

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