Thursday, May 23, 2013

Witch Mountain - Cauldron of the Wild

And then that little girl shocks The Rock

So earlier this week, I proposed a challenge to the lovable grizzly, Metantoine.  The deal came down to us both agreeing to step out of our comfort zones and review each other's preferred genres.  He stepped up to the plate and tackled Blood Dress's album, and since he held up his end of the bargain by reviewing a tech death album, I must defend my honor and review a mum doom album.  I figured I'd take on one that seems to get near-universal praise amongst a good chunk of the metal fandom, Witch Mountain's Cauldron of the Wild.

Final thought?  Eh, it's alright.

I feel like I should like this a lot more than I actually do, because despite not really being a doom fan, there is definitely a lot to like here.  Honestly, I feel like the main thing holding this back is one of the main reasons a lot of people really like the band in the first place, and that is the vocal performance of Uta Plotkin.  Now don't get me wrong, she is a very talented singer, and the actual sound of her voice is gorgeous, and she hits high notes with chutzpah.  Hell, even her lyrics are very good.  So what is there to complain about?  Really, I just don't think her voice gels with the music very well a lot of the time.  She seems like she's hitting notes too high for the music most of the time.  With guitars as deep and heavy as these, her voice should be a sweet contrast, but it just ends up distracting most of the time.  It's like they're singing in a different key.  It's hard to explain, but they just sound off most of the time.  Perhaps it's just a personal quibble, and most people will think I'm just hearing improperly because my head is planted so firmly up inside my own butthole, but it's really distracting to me and it knocks the album down a few pegs.

Vocals aside, Cauldron of the Wild is a resoundingly heavy album, full of suffocating atmosphere and slow, churning riffwork.  I realize "churning" is a really cliche word used to describe any riff that sounds even the slightest bit dark, but I feel like this is one of the better examples of such an adjective.  The extraordinarily slow riffs conjure up imagery of an old witch, glaring intently into a cauldron as she carefully and deliberately stirs the pot of odoriferous muck.  This is an album I "feel" more than I "listen to" in the sense that my preferred genres are typically very energetic and high tempo, so giving my full attention to something with the opposite endgame in mind leads to me taking on a very different perspective.  I feel like I'm lost in the woods while this is on, calm yet unsure.  None of the riffs sound urgent, but they all sound very deliberate, like they were crafted specifically to sound like you're being stalked.  It's a very dark and organic album, and I like that.

The atmosphere is fantastic, so it's a shame that the riffs are so inconsequential.  I mean, I understand this isn't really a riff based sound they're going for here, but still, there's almost nothing to grab you musically.  Cauldron of the Wild was definitely written with vocals and atmosphere in mind, and in that regard it succeeds.  But the greatest albums can strike a balance between the two ideals of atmosphere and engaging music (Don't Break the Oath, In Somniphobia, Sin After Sin, et cetera), whereas this here has pretty uninteresting music, accompanied by soaringly clean vocals and a great mood. "The Ballad of Lanky Rae" is probably the worst offender here, as the riffs there just kind of plod around and don't really go anywhere, whereas "Beekeeper" and "Shelter" (far and away the best songs) at least have a direction they're moving towards.  The vocals also seem to mesh the best on those two tracks, with their melodies being very striking and the lyrics very memorable.  "Shelter" in particular has a wonderfully powerful climax.  The two very long songs don't do a whole lot for me either, they just kind of go through the motions with nothing exciting happening in them.

And I realize I may just be the wrong demographic for this, but it seems like a lot of times the riffs are utterly inconsequential and don't have a lot going on behind them.  It's very slow, it's very deliberate, and while they create a great backdrop for the ballsy croon of Plotkin, they never do anything themselves that make me perk up and take notice.  I love the general feel of the album, but I find the music lacking, and I think the vocals are fantastic, but rarely fit with the music.  Basically the music itself needs some sort of overhaul for this to reach its full potential for me.  The good bits are good enough for me to give this a positive overall score, but the rest of the band really needs to catch up with the vocals.

And now, back to your regularly scheduled tech death and europower reviews!

RATING - 65%

Check out Metantoine's site! He may speak a funny, dead language and like a terrible hockey team, but he's a great writer in spite of that. 

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