The second full-length from Detroit horror-obsessed doom and rollers Acid Witch might be the most aptly-named album of the year. They called it Stoned. Their first release through the extreme metal imprint Hell’s Headbangers (an appropriate home given Acid Witch’s deathly leanings), Stoned follows on the hooves of the Midnight Mass vinyl-only EP, released just a couple weeks prior, and fleshes out the ideas nascent on 2008’s Witchtanic Hallucinations debut. In many ways, the opening track, “Satanic Faith,” says it all. Spooky organs, horror movie samples, gleeful reveling in devil-worship; it’s all in good fun for the duo of Shagrat and Slasher Dave, and with the level of riffly mischief they get up to on tracks like “Trick or Treat,” there’s plenty of heaviness to back up the lighthearted approach.
It’s riff-led all the way. “Witchfynder Finder” sets the tone with Sabbath-worship and Trouble’s classic straightforward structures, but the death growled vocals give Stoned an atmosphere like a Hammer Horror version of Carcass’ Heartwork LP. Acid Witch know their doom, clearly, and they’re obviously not shy about showing off a stoner rock influence. “Trick or Treat” is among the catchiest songs on Stoned and an early highlight, but “Thundering Hooves” — its title line delivered in a cadence reminiscent of Electric Wizard’s “Dunwich” from Witchcult Today – proves no less exciting. Samples have been done to death and we all know it, but Acid Witch is so much fun to listen to, and so self-aware, that the cliché aspects of Stoned are more than half of what’s to enjoy. While I doubt either Shagrat or Slasher Dave sit around and pray to Satan, they’re not being ironic either. Rather, Acid Witch seems hell-bent on paying homage to the horror culture of the ‘70s in a way similar to a band like Hooded Menace, though their doing so takes a much less extremely metallic form. The organ on “Live Forever,” following the guitar into the solo as it does, is straight-up Deep Purple and not a move Hooded Menace would make.
The music is simple, and I don’t mean that as an insult in the slightest. “Live Forever” is a lull compared to what’s around it, but the creepy interlude “Whispers in the Dark,” which can’t resist getting a little silly at the end, leads into a stellar Side B, kicked off by the impressive and more serious “If Hell Exists.” At 5:15, it’s one of the longer cuts on Stoned, and with some layered guitar harmonies, it shows Shagrat and Slasher Dave aren’t just clowning around with skullbongs and aural brutality. The production doesn’t really allow Acid Witch to sound “massive,” as it were, but there are a few guitar breaks here (foreshadowing what’s to come on closer “Sabbath of the Undead”) that approach it with swagger. The excellent, organ-infused “Stoned to the Grave” and ultra-memorable “Metal Movie Marijuana Massacre Meltdown” – if you want to know what Acid Witch is all about, that’s it – make for Stoned’s best pair of tracks. Two killer songs that balance the heavy, the slow, the upbeat and the horror; it’s as though all the appeal of the record was distilled into these two cuts before being spread across the rest. A propensity for classic rock/pop songwriting shows itself on the latter, and I can’t help but imagine the alternate dimension in which it’s a radio hit. We’d all have to be zombies or something equally gruesome, but rest assured, it’d be a great time.
Acid Witch echo the tongue-out-of-cheek death metal take of “If Hell Exists” on closer “Sabbath of the Undead.” Sabbath is right. The chorus riff is dead-on Iommi, but if you put blasting double-kick underneath the chorus, you’d have Immolation or some other ridiculously heavy death. It’s a good balance Shagrat and Slasher Dave strike, and as previously noted, the production here isn’t ideal, but it’s more than enough to get the point and the killer groove that propels “Sabbath of the Undead” across, ending Stoned in righteously doomed fashion. The unflinching growled vocals throughout are going to alienate some listeners, but if like me you’re a fan also of classic death metal, you can’t ignore how well Acid Witch pull off this stoner hybrid. I didn’t pay much attention to Witchtanic Hallucinations, and listening to Stoned, I regret it. It may be fun, but the pair are clearly not a joke band when it comes to putting together their material. If you’re fortunate enough to have a friend who’ll also put up with this kind of nonsense, enjoy Stoned in good company.
Tags: Acid Witch, Detroit, Hell's Headbangers, Michigan