A lot of bands lumped in the throwback circuit of 70s nostalgia rock (I’m thinking bands like Witchcraft, Kadavar, and the recently reunited Graveyard) takes their cues from the Marshall stacks and searing solos of the progenitors of the field, but there’s a smaller component often missed. Listening to Under the Mountain, the debut album from Scottish classic rockers King Witch I discovered they realized that gap as well, and made sure to cover it on a powerhouse collection of tunes I’ve been spinning a lot these past few weeks.
In a word, we’re talking about songwriting, making each note, each pause for space, everything working for the song. Nowhere is this more evident than on “Ancients,” a dripping forlorn ballad to the mystery of the unknown. There’s nothing flashy about the song in its execution, except that everything works in service to the song. it’s a incredible showcase for vocalist Laura Donnelly, who never overshadows the empty space in the verses. As the song escalates towards the end so does her voice, and it’s a thrilling and passionate ascension I can easily play on repeat for hours.
I could probably talk about the song for hours, too. But there are many more dimensions to Under the Mountain that follow the creed of song first that make the record a standout so early in 2018. Opener “Beneath the Waves” is a doom stomp that lets its darker nature shine through, hitting notes of traditional metal and doom, heavily anchored by Lyle Brown’s drumming. It’s a fist raiser, great as an opening track to show the breadth of the band, but the album really hits its sweet spot on the second track, “Carnal Sacrifice.” Things kick into a higher gear and the band runs in a wash of charged riffs that threatens to topple but never does. There are some great runs courtesy of guitarist Jamie Gilchrist, whose fingers do evil things with licks, and the song immediately puts things on another level of energy.
The title track hits similar beats, but doesn’t simply repeat the formula. Donnelly hits some new highs in her vocal range, and the song displays a swagger on par some of the best 80s rockers even as it reaches further back in time. “Approaching the End” travel a more pure doom route, although it’s heavily drenched in the blues that permeate every fiber of the album. On the back half of Under the Mountain it’s impossible not to mention the fury of “Possession” which hits the speed/thrash barrier and breaks through in a jumble of crazy solos, ride hits, and chugging that acts as the perfect counterpoint to “Ancients” – both tracks hit ridiculous highs in my brain. By the time of the crushing “Black Dog Blues” you’re either ready to go right back to the beginning to listen again or you’re unconscious on the floor.
This is the kind of music that feels uniquely wired for my brain, so if you’re wondering if there’s any bias in my review, I assure you it’s all chemical. Under the Mountain feels like an organic channeling of everything I grew up loving, and King Witch have crafted a stellar debut that hits numerous emotional notes, rips like crazy, and remembers the golden rule of always being in service to the song. That’s a kind of indulgence I can get behind every single time.
Under the Mountain is available February 9 on Listenable Records. For more information on King Witch, check out their Facebook page.