As you read this, Witch Mountain is out on the road supporting the mighty YOB, so I can’t think of a better time to get them in here for a Throwback If you haven’t heard of the Portland doomsters by now, my question to you is…where have you been? With four full-lengths and two EPs to their credit, the band’s carved quite the swath across the doom landscape, particularly following last year’s stellar release, Mobile of Angels. This #tbt focuses on “South Sugar”—a song from 2011’s South of Salem, which was my introduction to the band. To this day, it’s still the song I think of whenever the band is mentioned.
South of Salem—released on the band’s own label, Mountastic Records, and recorded by Billy Anderson—marked Witch Mountain’s first release with former vocalist Uta Plotkin and was, at the time, their first full-length release in ten years. Guitarist Rob Wrong had handled vocals on previous full-length, Come the Mountain, but with Plotkin taking over, his focus shifted to the arrangements and overall feel of the album. Even with the lyrics having been written before she joined the fold, Plotkin fully embraced them and made them her own, adding a few lyrics in spots and adding a range that the band had never previously had.
“South Sugar” opens with a riff that is instantly recognizable to any fan of both In Rock-era Deep Purple and Black Sabbath’s crunchy, bluesy early works. Plotkin’s first few notes will force you to pay attention; with her Janis Joplin-style delivery and Ann Wilson-esque clarity and range, she is unmistakably blues at heart and hits the high notes with ease. What drew me to this song so quickly was the swagger in its back and forth swing riff, which stays focused all the way through and kicks hard throughout the 5:41 run-time.
At the halfway point, we’re treated to a higher-pitched solo that wouldn’t be out of place on an early ZZ Top album, then move into a chug and stop guitar section that, in the quiet moments, allows us to focus on Plotkin’s outstanding vocal range. The drums never miss a beat and keep the song moving at a bluesy tempo. The latter half is mixed with another guitar solo from Wrong and a crashing drum display from Nathan Carson. The bass is tucked tightly under the grooves throughout, and fills out the low end nicely—it really serves to remind you this is, indeed, a doom release.
With its effortless melding of blues, doom, rock and metal, the song and the album as a whole remind me of early metal, hence the Deep Purple and Black Sabbath references. Never have I heard a vocal performance as powerful as the one we hear on this release—which really makes you miss Plotkin as a member of the band. (She exited last summer to pursue other projects; the band has since replaced her with Kayla Dixon.)
In closing, if you’ve only heard Mobile of Angels do yourself a favor and pick up South of Salem. I can say with relative certainty you won’t be disappointed. Need proof? Listen to “South Sugar” below: