• Witch
  • Tee Pee
  • 2006-03-27

You could always gain a quiet pleasure whilst listening to Dinosaur Jr. knowing that before they became the big college indie rock band of the late ’80s they were a speed Hardcore band. It’s a little like having a mate who’s generally the nicest guy in the world but to those who know him know that should provoked, he could be the evilest bastard imaginable. J Mascis, the longhaired lead guitarist of Dinosaur Jr. has just gone barroom himself with his latest project, Witch, which sees him return to his original weapon of choice – the drums – and a little closer to the hardcore sound that pre-empted Dinosaur Jr.

The foundations that make up the Witch four piece are fairly unusual considering the mixture of early 70s heavy metal and stoner rock that is Witch’s fire, with Mascis opting for two members of the Avant-Folk outfit Feathers, Asa Irons and Kyle Thomas, who had been recently opening for the likes of Sufjan Stevens and Bonnie Prince Billy, completing the band with himself and longtime friend Dave Sweetapple. The conflux of influences and styles brings a really sharp fresh mood to a sound that is essentially nothing new and this can be heard right away on the record. With Kyle Thomas on vocals sounding like a young Ozzy Osbourne who was still capable of smacking his wife about, the first track opens on lucid fire-branding riff before, Mascis kicks in on the drums sounding like he might have rent to collect.

Witch’s guitars sound a hell of a lot more robust and ‘jaw on curb’ crunching.

If someone had told me a year ago that the geezer out of Dinasaur Jr. and a couple of mates out of an airy dulcimer and harp-playing folk band, were going to get together and make a sort of hybrid of Black Sabbath and Kyuss and pull it off, I probably would of replied, “Yeah mate”. Instead, we find ourselves saying, “Yes mate”. Much of this comes down to the playing on this record. Whereas the guitar sounds and solos from early 70s heavy metal band sound grandiose and watery now, Witch’s guitars although equally as monolithic sound a hell of a lot more robust and ‘jaw on curb’ crunching. Everything from the drums and bass to the length of guitar solos — when to come in and not to come in — is extremely tight. The resultant effect is that every component becomes amplified with riffs carrying more longevity and punch that should rightly be allowed and drums consistently tremor like. Not to say that this is all straight up riff laden modern day heavy rock, because a lot of this also benefits from some subtle studio wizardry – we get these viscous flare sounds on “Soul of Fire” — and some unique instrumental touches — the melodic base arpeggios for example, that offset the lead guitar on “Black Saint”. This is all aided and abetted by gothic imagery that teeters on the right side of Prog, “Ladies of darkness… children in the garden… demons in the wishing well” etc exhibiting a reflexive black humour that manages to intrigue without sounding ridiculous.

This album has a little whiff of genre-hopping which may hinder the overall richness of it slightly. Yet, with Kyle Thomas’s voice showcasing a control that would make even Robert Plant blush, no one really cares about a postmodern lack of authenticity. Hell, the psychedelic guitar duels on this record are worth it alone.

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