No doubt we veer toward the more extreme end of metal just about every day, which wasn’t really the plan. It’s just how things kind of came together as this endeavor has gone along. I don’t regret that at all. But I also relish a chance to look in other areas of metal, even some that’s more roots-based and might even be questioned by some as to whether it belongs in the genre.
I can certainly see, in this current metal landscape, how some might dismiss Nashville’s All Them Witches from the conversation. After all, instead of brutal, shockingly loud, and barbaric, the band is more swampy, blues based, and very, very Southern. I just caught them last weekend opening for Windhand in Pittsburgh, and not only did they fit in with the evening very well, they managed to take me back to a simpler time when people weren’t doing battle over labels or what’s true metal or any of that nonsense. Simply put, All Them Witches (the name is a reference to the classic film “Rosemary’s Baby”) likely are better placed as a rock band, but they’ve got some stomp and power that could endear them to a metal crowd. Plus, they’re just really, really fucking good. I knew that after spending time with their new record “Lightning at the Door” and was blasted over the head with that fact after witnessing the band live.
As noted, there’s a heavy Southern bend to the record. Not just musically but lyrically as well. These stories they weave through humid passages and rain drenched memories contain good and evil, trials and tribulations, death, violence, rebirth, you name it. In fact, following along with the words is almost a must if you want the full experience, and that’s a refreshing thing to say about such a young band. For all the limp rock bands that make a dent on mainstream radio, none hold a candle to this group’s ways of going about things. Some regular airplay–I know, that’s like asking for a miracle–would do wonders not only for people’s tastes but for these honorable gentlemen that include vocalist/bassist Michael Parks Jr., guitarists Ben McLeod and Allan Van Cleave (whose choice of weapon is a Fender Rhodes), and drummer Robby Staebler.
Swelling opener “Funeral for a Great Drunken Bird” is a slow burner, letting the band take its time to set the scene and get you good and involved. A few minutes in, the song begins to fire up, harmonicas swirl like mad, and Parks Jr. howls his eulogy like he’s yelling off a mountain top, “Goodbye, you great fool, we’ll love you!” “When God Comes Back” is a real trip through the swamps, with bluesy playing and the feeling like you need to swat away pesky, blood-seeking insects. The vocals are gritty and soulful, the leads soar, and the band finds some room to stomp you pretty good. “The Marriage of Coyote Woman,” the first of a two-part story, is a total psyche blues experience that makes it feel like the forces of evil are getting into your blood. “I’ve never met a salesman like you before,” Parks Jr. drawls as the music builds up around him. It’s a great song that any person who overindulges in guitar rock and the blues are bound to love, and it’s a perfect piece to enjoy while sitting with a beer, a cigarette, and the screen door swinging on its hinges. This song is just lethal through and through.
“Charles William” keeps the momentum rolling ahead, and this could be the song that breaks them out to a larger audience if this can get in more ears. The song plods along with a slight sinister bend, with some nasty slide guitar lines coloring in the chorus when Parks Jr. pushes, “Jesus was my dad, never laid a hand on me.” There are so many ways to read into that line. The track has a dark noir feel, and it’s one of the best rock songs of the year. No hyperbole. “The Death of Coyote Woman” pays off the second part of their story, with power pushing forth, cool riffs taking hold, and some great musical phrasing that’s alluring and true. “How have I been chased for so long?” Parks Jr. wonders, as the band heads into haunting territory, the keys start to burn, and the track slithers out the door. “Romany Dagger” kicks up Appalachian-style folk and high spirits, as the band gives themselves over the rustic sounds and a different kind of energy. Vocals sound like chants, some slide guitar squeezes in, and the end fades away in dust. Closer “Mountain” brings a hush to the room, as a wave of dreary melody rolls in and the vocals sound like they’re being delivered from deep underground, perhaps from an abandoned mine. Parks Jr. pays tribute with, “God bless our mother the mountain,” before the cut rips open, and the intensity rises. The music is punchy, the band hits on a smoking blues/psyche kick, and the final moments are the most dangerous of this entire great debut record.
These guys are coming for you. All Them Witches’ “Lightning at the Door” is too damn good, too powerful, too darkly magical not to have an impact, and if you’re not aware, they can be behind you like a ghost in the night, ready to claim your soul. Now’s a great time to rediscover the power of true, heart-and-soul rock and roll music and to remember how that type of music made the insane metal we enjoy today possible in the first place.
For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/allthemwitches
To buy the album (and get an instant download of “Charles William,” go here: https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/lightning-at-the-door/id912472924