All Them Witches Go Back to Basics on 'ATW'
On ATW, All Them Witches wisely avoid repeating themselves, instead filtering the heavy, stoner rock of Dying Surfer Meets His Maker through the more expansive, psychedelic haze of Sleeping Through the War.
All Them Witches
28 September 2018
When a band decides to "go back to basics" results can be mixed, to say the least. Often it is a sign that they're experimental explorations have gone as far as they can or that they're acquiescing to fans' demands to restore their sound to what it once was. Whatever the reasoning, it is a brave move. History is strewn with those principled albums that promised to distill a band's sound to its essential elements, restoring them to their early peak but stumbled well before the summit
On album number five, Nashville four-piece, All Them Witches, have taken the middle-ground. Rather than simply going "going back to basics", they have stripped away the more expansive, excess of their brilliant Sleeping Through the War album but retained the same sense of experimentation.
The psychedelic stomp of "Fishbelly 86 Onions" kicks things off with an authentic '60s groove. Riding a classic distorted guitar line that invites fitful bursts of wild Hammond organ, the music writhes in all of its untamed glory before dropping out. Vocalist Charles Michael Parks, Jr, fills the space as he half sings, half-sermonizes his lines like a bullish preacher. Appropriately, the track soon breaks out into a barely controlled jam with guitars and organ dueling, as a frenetic rhythm section goads them on.
Things calm down on the outlaw country of "Workhouse". The band swap out their edgy psychedelia for a classic western feel with slide guitar and rim taps evoking the dusty streets of a one-horse, frontier town. "1st vs. 2nd" finds the band in a more familiar territory. Riding a brooding, stoner rock riff the track picks up speed, running the stop sign at the psychedelic crossroads before careering into a dirty blues tree.
The suitably baked "Half Tongue" finds the band kicking back in the sun with a gentle guitar riff and grooving bassline before they let rip with a classic '70s rock solo. "Diamond" is the brilliant centerpiece of the album and the moment where all their experimentation pays off. Opening with guitar and liquidy electro piano that recall Zeppelin's "No Quarter" the song mixes spaced out sounds and splashes of guitar chords to create a monolithic sound as if recorded in the ante-chamber of a sprawling cave complex.
"Harvest Feast" shifts the mood from Houses of the Holy to Led Zeppelin. It shares a similar '60s British blues-rock feel that they warp with fuzzed out guitar riffage before stretching into an extended slow blues jam. From there the mist descends as "HJTC" finds Parks Jr's voice cutting through the fog. Accompanied by the barest of instrumentation the song mixes spiritual, psychedelic blues with a sprinkling of Americana. Gradually the music swells in intensity as he battles to make his voice heard. Closer "Rob's Dream" sends the album slowly drifting through space until a storm of doomy riffs heralds a bumpy ending amongst the stars.
On ATW, All Them Witches wisely avoid repeating themselves, instead filtering the heavy, stoner rock of Dying Surfer Meets His Maker through the more expansive, psychedelic haze of Sleeping Through the War. The result feels like a natural evolution for the band rather than a tired, "back to basics" album, and it's all the better for it.