Witch Mountain, Mobile of Angels: Shapes and Truths

witch mountain mobile of angels

Certainly the announcement that vocalist Uta Plotkin will leave Witch Mountain following their Fall US tour with Nik Turner’s Hawkwind places Mobile of Angels, the band’s fourth album overall and third with Plotkin fronting, into a different context. If nothing else, it lets lyrics longing for escape in “Psycho Animundi” and “Can’t Settle” — lines like “Living in filth and dirt in rooms less colorful and cheerful than the cages in which we put animals in a zoo” from the former and the richly, beautifully crooned “Oh, it’s time to go” in the back half chorus of the latter — be read in ways opposed to how they otherwise might. Witch Mountain‘s music has never been particularly upbeat, but the blues in Plotkin‘s voice seem to have a focal point here and if it’s a change that needed to happen, then the only really unfortunate part about it is that it comes as the four-piece of Plotkin, guitarist Rob Wrong, drummer Nate Carson and bassist Charles Thomas (also of Blackwitch Pudding and the latest in a succession of bass players) reach their highest creative watermark to date. Released by Profound Lore in North America and Svart in Europe, Mobile of Angels follows two strong outings in 2012’s Cauldron of the Wild (review here) and 2011’s South of Salem (review here) — their debut, Come the Mountain (discussed here) having been released in 2001 on Rage of Achilles before an extended hiatus — but it is leaner than Cauldron and more developed than Salem, the band’s considerable road-time paying dividends in the tightness of performance and the ground they’re able and willing to cover stylistically. Production by Billy Anderson never hurts either, but what’s most striking about Mobile of Angels isn’t how the five songs sound so much as where they go.

The lurching chug in Wrong‘s riffs is a signature element in Witch Mountain‘s approach, and as the opener, “Psycho Animundi” dives immediately into an affirmation of it. Cauldron of the Wild‘s “The Ballad of Lanky Rae” was similarly direct, but the bluesier atmosphere of that track is contrasted by “Psycho Animundi”‘s purely doomed stomp, underscored by the slow march in Carson‘s drumming. At nearly nine minutes, it’s second only to centerpiece “Your Corrupt Ways (Sour the Hymn),” and fittingly immersive, but there’s still a right-down-to-business feel, and the vocals start less than a minute into the track, beginning a tradeoff of verses and guitar solos that carries the central chug through a duration that feels less extended than it is. Plotkin‘s voice is given to soaring, and it does so liberally here, finding contrast in secret-weapon growls in the metallic midsection of “Can’t Settle,” the second half of which stands as an early apex of the record, perhaps rivaled by the guitar nods to YOB‘s “Catharsis” in closer “The Shape Truth Takes,” but a moment unto itself for the vocal harmonies at play in any case. That one would even be tempted to hyperbolize and call it Plotkin‘s best performance in Witch Mountain should be enough to emphasize the point. The 10-minute “Your Corrupt Ways (Sour the Hymn)” follows, executing a few quiet/loud tradeoffs en route to Mobile of Angels‘ most patient build, the full band in complete command of their movement as soulful backing vocals guide the way through the early stretches and the guitar, bass and drums begin their push toward a peak that arrives after seven minutes in, Wrong taking the fore for one of the album’s best solos — he also works in layers — and giving way to a morose final verse before a more open, ethereal ending shifts into the otherworldly title-track, relatively quick at 3:30, but hypnotic thanks to organ scratch and an interweaving of spoken and sung incantations.

witch mountain

A subdued finale, maybe, but “The Shape Truth Takes” is glorious in its melancholy. Plotkin seems to be playing off Debbie Harry‘s unrealistic range, and the quieter instrumentation behind her gives a perfect showcase in the song’s initial moments, the lead-in from “Mobile of Angels” opening fluidly to the peaceful noodling of the guitar, Witch Mountain proving just as capable of conveying weight in emotionality as in their tones, Plotkin‘s swirling layers recalling “Can’t Settle” as ThomasCarson and Wrong weave their way through a forward but deceptive progression, finding an explosive point after the three-minute mark, at which point “The Shape Truth Takes” opens to a fuller but still not overblown breadth. Regret? Sadness? It’s hard to know what’s in there without reading too much in, but it’s not bitter in the way “Psycho Animundi” is. Maybe it’s just a moment of resignation that gets swept up in Wrong‘s solo before five minutes in, the album’s final crescendo coming in the solo/vocal trade much like that of “Your Corrupt Ways (Sour the Hymn),” but leading to a relatively quick outro and final chug of the guitar, as though it’s looking to hold onto the song even as it’s already passed. Witch Mountain, which was founded by Wrong and Carson in the late ’90s, has said the band will continue without Plotkin, but there can be little doubt they’ll have their work cut out for them in assembling a new dynamic after the utter mastery they show on Mobile of Angels. That’s not to say it can’t be done, only that it will take time. When one considers the efforts put in by the band on tour and over the two records leading to this one, Mobile of Angels looks all the more like a high point reached, the culmination of the years since Witch Mountain came back together and the arrival at what they’ve been pursuing all along. If subsequent outings show that’s not the case — i.e., if that pursuit continues off in a different direction — then all the better, but no question Mobile of Angels marks the end of something special for Witch Mountain and is bittersweet for American doom. All is fleeting.

Witch Mountain, “Psycho Animundi”

Witch Mountain on Thee Facebooks

Profound Lore Records

Svart Records

Tags: , , , , , ,

One Response to “Witch Mountain, Mobile of Angels: Shapes and Truths”

  1. […] reading: THE OBELISK REVIEW: Witch Mountain, Mobile of Angels (Courtesy of JJ Koczan / The […]

Leave a Reply