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King Witch Head in a Progressive Metal Direction with 'Under the Mountain'

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King Witch arrive at something like genuine progressive doom metal - atmospheric, heaving, dynamic doom riffs powered by strikingly sonorous vocals.

Under the Mountain
King Witch

Listenable

16 March 2018

Scotland's King Witch have arrived at something like a genuine progressive doom metal on their first full-length, Under the Mountain. The music is spiked with traditional heavy metal and thrash rhythms, but the prevailing organizing principle consists of atmospheric, heaving, dynamic doom riffs powered by strikingly sonorous vocals.

The band's most conspicuous characteristic is Laura Donnelly's voice. Her style will be familiar to fans of the falsetto tradition embodied by Halford and Dio, familiar to fans of clear and powerful singers of classic doom, and to the high-octane style conventional to progressive and power metal. But Donnelly's voice is relatively distinct, and her approach doesn't quite belong to any one of these traditions. So the two closest comparisons for Donnelly that come to mind are appropriately disparate. One is Messiah Marcolin, well known for his work on Candlemass's greatest records. Messiah was a self-taught belter, a baritenor who used a wild semi-operatic vibrato. The other is Sebastian Bach from his Slave to the Grind heyday with Skid Row, a tenor with range and grit.

There is a thrilling element to Donnelly's presence on Under the Mountain. It's like she's been unleashed and it begins off the top with "Beneath the Waves". The nautical imagery is apt because there is a constant motion, a momentum, and a need to push the melody up and out from inside the song. The effect is exhilarating for songs that are slow or mid-paced and draw out the classic doom, Solitude Aeturnus, and Dio-era Sabbath influences. The album's three doomiest songs – "Solitary", "Approaching the End", and "Hunger" – are also the longest at around six minutes and their arrangements create space for the riffs and for Donnelly's voice and melodies to breathe and resonate.

The shorter and punchier songs suggest a love of Diamond Head, Samson, and other sounds of early 1980's New Wave of British Heavy Metal. These are, however, relatively less memorable and feel out of joint with the towering doom epics that bookend them. But "Possession" and "Black Dog Blues" nevertheless spark with musical ideas, shifting from thrash, doom, progressive, and to traditional metal riffs with erratic energy matched by Donnelly's spirited wailing.

The progressive element warrants attention. The reverb-heavy lead guitar, the busy arrangements, and the cyclical quality of the riffs and transitions all recall Mastodon. There is finesse to the playing and performances. "Ancients" is based on an almost bluesy acoustic dirge that is reminiscent of both Mastodon and Opeth, and Donnelly shines on this track. Ironically the band has least in common with the psychedelic doom that their nomenclature (king, witch, mountain) and artwork might suggest at a cursory look – but King Witch are far more adventurous and ambitious.

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