Iron Tongue, Witches: This Freezing Point (Plus Full Album Stream)

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[Stream Iron Tongue’s Witches in full by clicking play above. Album is out digitally today, Nov. 8, with physical release Nov. 14.]

A second full-length from Little Rock, Arkansas, six-piece Iron Tongue, Witches, arrives as a self-released follow-up to the band’s 2013 debut, The Dogs Have Barked, the Bird Has Flown (review here). That album came out via Neurot Recordings and had a benefit of relative proximity to 2011’s Rest (review here), the most recent LP from frontman Christopher “CT” Terry‘s then-main outfit, Rwake. Three years later, Terry, fellow vocalist Stephanie Smittle, guitarists Mark Chiaro and Scott Diffee, bassist Andy Warr and drummer Stan James would seem to stand more on their own with the brevity of Witches, a 24-minute five-tracker that nonetheless pushes forward the stylistic modus established their last time out.

Centerpiece “Starless,” with a pedal steel guest appearance from Todd Beene (Lucero) might be where that’s most the case, as Iron Tongue blend moody and mid-paced heavy rock groove with more Southern vibes, and certainly a pedal steel guitar isn’t going to hurt that effort, but even in the call and response gang-style vocals in the chorus of opener “Lose Yourselves Away” and the verse of the subsequent “The Giant,” the lead-topped swing of “Stones and Chains” and the spaciousness in which the dual-vocal hook of crawling closer “Devil’s Friend” seems to take place, Iron Tongue seem intent on casting an identity of their own throughout Witches in weighted Southern-style tones, fluid tempos, clean and soulful vocals, tales of perseverance, and just an underpinning of metal to sharpen the corners.

Importantly, there’s no single element that defines them at any given time, but rather the different ways in which they blend the not-exhaustive aspects above to execute this brief collection. Structure plays a significant role as well. With three songs over five minutes long — “Lose Yourselves Away,” “Starless” and “Devil’s Friend” — and two under four — “The Giant” and “Stones and Chains,” both faster — Iron Tongue set themselves up with a prime opportunity to emphasize dynamics with a back and forth between them, and that’s just how Witches plays out, so that the turns between “Lose Yourselves Away” and “The Giant” and “Starless” and “Stones and Chains” and “Devil’s Friend” are all the more flowing for their consistency. If it was an album that was 40 or 50 minutes long, they might need something more to break it up, but for as bare-bones as Witches seems interested in being, those bones prove solid enough to support its flesh and musculature.

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One can hear a likewise patterning in the vocals. Already-noted call and response between CT and either Smittle on “Starless” and “Devil’s Friend,” or what seems to be a variety of others throughout — might also be layering — becomes a big part of the tracks’ identities, and draws emphasis to the languid sway in the opening minutes of “Starless” before that song kicks into its more uptempo second half as much as it does the barroom strut of “Stones and Chains.” I’m not sure if Iron Tongue are inviting sing-alongs, ultimately, but they wouldn’t seem to be discouraging them by any means, and the parallel moves in positioning of the songs and arrangements within them speak to a drive toward structure that lends Witches an even more cohesive sense of presentation.

And as they make their way toward “Devil’s Friend” to round out, they seem to match that structure with a linear design poised toward a darker-sounding finish. “Stones and Chains,” “Lose Yourselves Away” and indeed “Devil’s Friend” keep a decidedly positive lyrical spin, but the finale is as close to doom as Iron Tongue come, and with its slow-rolling riff, drawn out leads, echoing shouts from CT and punctuating snare from James, they make the point clear. If not for the “You gotta stand up” encouragement in the hook, it would almost be out of place, but the lyrics tie “Devil’s Friend” the rest of what precedes and help bring Witches to a crashing and rumbling finish that helps ensure an impression is left, despite the album being so short.

Arguments could be made for Witches as an EP as opposed to an LP because of that quick runtime — my standard is usually that Slayer‘s Reign in Blood was 28 minutes long — but I think Iron Tongue make a good case for a full-length flow here and that rather than include any filler or take more time, three years after their debut they opted for something that could be both raw and engaging. They got there. Witches has its brooding side, as seen in the Nate Powell cover art, but repeat listens reveal it as a bolder step into sonic individualism than it might at first seem to be, and it takes that step without giving way to any form of pretense, thereby making it even more of a win for the band.

Iron Tongue, “Lose Yourselves Away” official video

Iron Tongue on Thee Facebooks

Iron Tongue on Bandcamp

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One Response to “Iron Tongue, Witches: This Freezing Point (Plus Full Album Stream)”

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