Saturday, January 25, 2014

Old Witch - Come Mourning Come [2013]

In general, though staunch cultists possess an almost inexplicable reverence for them, I don't tend to take great pleasure in indulging myself in self-released, lo-fi recordings - at least no modern ones. The reason being, especially in the medium of black or death metal, that bands prefer to sacrifice both their production values and the separate quality of their riffing for the sake of longer, swelling compositions that are only relevant to enjoyment in the long-run. Such recordings often fail to evoke, despite clearly straining to, a sense of darkness, despair and atmospheric repercussions, and simply bore the listener to the point of giving up hope. I was definitely glad when the two-piece US obscures Old Witch bantered about in no such manner. Their sole album and sole release ''Come Mourning Come'' just jutted out of nowhere, in a nearly unbelievable turn of fortune, and acquainted itself with me entirely by chance. It's not that the duo can entirely elude the pitfalls of stagnation and meandering, nor are they employing an utterly novel kind of black metal here; but through a vituperative slew of melancholy and force-fed doom, arcane atmospherics and an eloquent infatuation with their USBM roots, they can easily sell any avid fan of nostalgic, moody black metal.

Old Witch's formula is nothing new: rigid guitars lumbering in a droning soniscape of rustic bliss, wonderfully dark and evocative synthesizers that should immediately remind one of Ihsahn's work on Emperor's masterful debut, or Samael's equally brilliant ''Passage''; but beyond these there is both a techo-induced propensity and a slightly more pungent raving for a Gothic, almost romantic atmosphere. Take ''The Leaves Fall In Autumn'' for instance; four and a half minutes of eloquent drudgery, conjuring images of rustic glazes at night and falling leaves, gradually fading into grey hues - continually tempered by an ever-present drudge of electronic fuzz. Old Witch are doubtless interested in suffering, mourn, nightsky revelations and brooding epochs, and it shows. It's clear that these thematic preferences have led to changes in their music. They seem more inclined to deliver such sorrowful waves of nostalgia and pain through sludgy black/doom passages rather than the much more uncircumcised assails of their US counterparts; and hell, I love the subtle balances between their rhythm and their omnipresent ambient effects. These effects vary in size and shape; from pouncing synthesizers in the fashion of Emperor to doleful choirs, to fading serenades orchestral work. They enrich the banality of the thrashing doom riffs and leave much more the imagination of the listener through the passages created. Even as a frequent scoffer of the modern black metal lyric, I found myself in some profound involvement with the almost poetic song-writing capacity of these newcomers:

forests fall black
and cower at the wolves howl
breaking cold
across the frost and snow
all the stars in the night sky
shiver in their vast dome
lofty beyond all human consciousness

curse the hunter's cry
curse merciless eyes
never virgin pure
spirit born in ice

follow the path of the stars
under forest eves
o'er mountains and dark streams
through sleeping villages
where folk lie in dreams

Of course, it's not just the drudge that makes ''Come Mourning Come'' a crowning triumph. The blistering aspersions of ''God Ov Wolves'', ''This Land Has Been Cursed'' and the opener ''Funeral Rain'' are apt practitioners of speed and raw black metal, so now you know the guitars still effective in sizable expanse of the record. Old Witch are never rapid - they consistently sustain themselves - but they sure as hell could play the speed game if they wanted to.

Perhaps not an immediate contender to the year's finest releases, ''Come Mourning Come'' is, considering the frailty of its origin, still a damn good record, blissful in its adherence to atmosphere and doom. The bizarrely entertaining contrast they create through the use of synthesizers against bashing guitar chugs makes for an interesting, if not entirely original listen. I still did feel that certain parts were too elongated to apply the full effect of brevity, and the guitar passages could certainly have used some spice (the atmospherics were perfect, though), but among so many groups rigidly seated in their cavern-core fantasies, Old Witch brings, and successfully too, an extent of realism and a clear understanding of the monotone; that it should be used correctly rather than excessively. It's not directly relevant to the interests of any single band, because its myriad influences are presented in a way that had undergone sufficient assimilation to scatter most of the obvious, but any lurker in the dark eager to take on a good mix of Emperor or other Norwegian or Swedish purveyors and well-drugged drone should get their hands on this. That is, if the physical copy is out yet.

God ov Wolves
Funeral Rain
The Frost and the Tyrant

Rating: 82,5%

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