Review & Track Premiere: King Witch, Under the Mountain

king witch under the mountain

[Click play above to stream ‘Carnal Sacrifice’ from King Witch’s Under the Mountain. Album is out March 16 via Listenable Records.]

Some heavy metal makes its impact with raw, blistering fury. It speaks to something primitive and disaffected in its audience, manifesting a sense of violent otherness that, at times, pushes the limits of sonic endurance to its very extremes. King Witch don’t play this kind of metal. They play the other kind. As the Edinburgh-based four-piece make their noteworthy debut with the nine-song Under the Mountain via Listenable Records, they do so with an overriding sense of poise and clarity of purpose. Their sound is crisply-presented, their songwriting efficient, their performances energetic and powerful.

Individual tracks present different vibes, whether that’s the rolling undulations and progressive forward drive of third cut “Solitary” or the thrashier thrust of the later “Possession,” but especially with a foundation of hooks like those of “Carnal Sacrifice” and the near-seven-minute centerpiece “Approaching the End,” which recalls finer moments of post-Ozzy-era Black Sabbath in its sense of class and stage-presence-in-the-studio spirit, Under the Mountain is unafraid either to blaze ahead at top speed directly in the face of the listener or to stand back and manifest its ideas with a precision bordering on the graceful. As Under the Mountainwas preceded only by a 2015 EP titled Shoulders of Giants, it is all the more impressive to consider for being the band’s debut, and with the lineup of vocalist Laura Donnelly, guitarist Jamie Gilchrist, bassist Simon Anger and drummer Lyle Brown, King Witch emerge from their first album having showcased present realization and future potential in kind. That’s the kind of metal they play.

They execute it by engaging with a number of subgenres, and opener “Beneath the Waves” brims with rolling intention and sets a tone somewhere between Candlemass and less specifically doomed, updated NWOBHM methods. A current of keys adds flourish to the arrangement, but the most striking immediate effect comes from Donnelly‘s vocals, which from “Beneath the Waves” and into the commanding chorus of “Carnal Sacrifice” and even in the more laid back chug of “Solitary;” one can her a trained-seeming vibrato that only works to bolster the coherence of the material overall. She stands up to the Judas Priest-ery of the subsequent title-track, on which Gilchrist offers a particularly choice guitar lead, a bit of shred setting up the dynamic tempo change into the chunkier “Approaching the End,” which is perhaps the most singularly doomed moment on Under the Mountain, though neither the guitar nor the vocals are wanting for showcase moments throughout the proceedings.

The initial shove Under the Mountain elicits in “Beneath the Waves” and the shouting hook of “Carnal Sacrifice,” while still controlled in style and delivery, is an energetic blast to start the record, and though “Solitary” seems to move immediately outward from there with a spacious guitar intro and longer runtime, it remains informs by the vitality of the tracks prior, and the same could certainly be said of the careening title-track that follows, its jabbing riff opening up to a thrash-style chorus that would seem to reveal Anger‘s bass as the secret weapon of the band, subtly thickening and complementing the rhythm while adding flourish to stand up to Brown‘s drums. A slowdown about halfway through gives “Under the Mountain” a break into nod that once more Donnelly guides the audience through masterfully, and when the gallop begins anew to toward a final chorus, it’s a further highlight of the songwriting acumen at work on Under the Mountain as a whole and the sheer efficiency with which King Witch bring their material to bear.

king witch

That notion extends to the interactions between the tracks across the record’s span as well as to the songs themselves, as already heard in the tempo shift between “Carnal Sacrifice”‘s riotous finish and the start of “Solitary.” Likewise, “Approaching the End” — which might be the highlight achievement here in blending classic metal, doom and an innate sense of personality in one summary progression — picks up with a slower pulse than the title-track before it, and as by its end it hits a raging payoff, the subdued and bluesy strum that follows in “Ancients” feels like all the more of an aesthetic outward reach on the part of King Witch — a departure from the strictly metallic vibe that they’re no less able to pull off cleanly and with intent. Brown‘s toms signal a kind of middle ground resolution in the subsequent “Hunger,” and sure enough, what emerges there is one of Under the Mountain‘s most resonant chugs, a spacious verse and a sweeping chorus, all of this speaking to perhaps the stylistic melding process that the band might undertake as they move forward from this debut.

Always difficult to speculate on that kind of thing, but if there’s a point being made as King Witch round out Under the Mountain, it’s on the more furious side of their sound, which frankly it sounds like they’re having too much fun executing to expect it to completely disappear anytime soon, whatever their sound ultimately becomes. Both under four minutes long, “Possession” and “Black Dog Blues” make a sharp finishing duo, the former with a vicious forward thrust and the latter with head-spinning percussive turns as if to make the point that the band has only begun to explore the various methods of what will eventually become their style.

The real question coming out of Under the Mountain is whether that style will remain as multi-faceted as it is in these songs or cohere over time into some combination of elements through which King Witch find further individualized expression, but this concern is for the next record, and if anything, Under the Mountain demonstrates with its urgency and ambition that this is a group not just working haphazardly toward whatever ends they may discover along the way. Instead, these tracks clearly indicate a group working as one unit with common goals, and listening to the finished product of Under the Mountain, it’s hard to imagine the first of those common goals hasn’t been realized.

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4 Responses to “Review & Track Premiere: King Witch, Under the Mountain

  1. […] veröffentlichen am 9. Februar 2018 ihr neues Album „Beneath The Mountain“. Mit „Carnal Sacrifice“ hat die Band jetzt einen zweiten Song daraus […]

  2. […] GPS directions would be hard to follow over an audiobook, so for the actual deliveries I switched to music.  First up was the Scotland doom metal band King Witch.  Man, these guys are killing it!  Witch Mountain meets Mastodon in their upcoming full-length Under the Mountain (due out March 16th in North America via Listenable Records).  Laura Donnelly’s soulful vocals soar over gritty, fast-paced riffs that summon the best of classic hard rock.  King Witch ain’t foolin’ around — let’s hope a United States tour is on their agenda for 2018.  Listen to the track premiere of “Carnal Sacrifice” here. […]

  3. Ken Mumper says:

    All hail KING WITCH. Awesome, awesome, AWESOME!

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