Update: On Saturday, 9/20, I had the distinct honor of having a few words with Parks and Ben from All Them Witches, and they provided what I consider ample defense of what I had originally considered an oversight in their choice of band name (see below). Check out the interview here.
Before I really get into this review, I have a bone to pick with All Them Witches. When I received my advance download of their new full-length, Lighting at the Door, I of course immediately recognized their name as taken from my favorite film of all time, Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby. And the band acknowledges that this was a conscious decision, and not some strange coincidence. So why, then, is the band not called All OF Them Witches?
I just don’t get it. But whatever.
The good news is they’ve redeemed themselves by putting together a really great sophomore full-length. And do you know why? Because they recorded the fucking thing LIVE, in a SINGLE FUCKING ROOM. I’m sorry to be so vehement about this, but it’s something I feel quite strongly about, especially as a musician who has been through the recording process a number of times. This album is all about vibe, feel, and atmosphere, and you simply can’t achieve these things to their full potential if you’re de-contextualizing every step of the recording process, and hoping that when you patch it all together it will maintain a truly convincing and coherent effect.
This thoroughly organic approach to recording is equally essential to both the quality of the band’s performance, and the sonic results. My favorite song on the album is probably “Charles William,” which serves as a good summary of the band’s entire aesthetic, and also a great demonstration of these points I hope to make re: live recording. It begins quietly, intimately: bass, vocals, and eventually drums building up a slow, soft, but driving groove, and as it continues to crescendo, guitar and background voices joining, the continuous effect is the growth of a single sound, a single musical event occurring at a single point in time and space. And that’s how real artistic effect, whether the effect of intimacy or the effect of explosion, is achieved: through authenticity of execution. Anyone who claims that the same can be achieved with Pro Tools trickery is a swindler, hoping that you’re too stupid to not know the difference between butter and oleo.
The real kicker, though, is all the bleed. For the uninformed, bleed is when, for example, the microphone recording the bass amp also picks up sound from the drums and guitars. It restricts you a bit in terms of post-production, since each track isn’t entirely isolated. But on the plus side, it adds a depth and fullness to the overall mix which is difficult to achieve otherwise. In the case of Lightning at the Door, the most notable result is a sense of raw immediacy. There’s no doubt in my mind that this is All Them Witches as they truly are, not filtered or processed, but genuine.
In terms of what the results actually sound like, there’s no doubt that All Them Witches draw heavily from the classic stoner sounds of Kyuss and Clutch, pulled through a fat bong full of swamp water. They hail from Tennessee, and it’s apparent: blues all over this thing. Moreover, you can tell that real thought was put into how the album was structured, in terms of track order and overall trajectory. There’s something ceremonial about it taken as a whole. If you’ve got this album playing through headphones on the subway, or in the background at a dinner party, you’re probably doing it wrong. If, on the other hands, you’ve dimmed the lights, lit a cone of incense, and allowed a certain haze to descend, you’re on the right track. It truly feels like an album, and I love that. It runs seamlessly from front to back, and I think there’s no doubt that, with Lighting at the Door, All Them Witches have absolutely succeeded in creating a singular work of consistent, stunning effect.
You know what else is awesome? They’re playing at St. Vitus this Saturday, 9/20, with Virginian doom masters Windhand! Get your tickets here.
Click here to get the album.