Originally written by Rae Amitay
2011’s South of Salem was a grooving and gritty doom record surging with soul, and while it occasionally dragged its feet when it should have been stomping through the badlands, it’s still a record rife with Rob Wrong’s superb riffs and a rock-solid rhythm section (most notably Nate Carson’s dynamic and patient drumming). While it seems almost too obvious to mention, South of Salem was also a formal introduction to the unbelievable voice of Uta Plotkin, one of the most mesmerizing singers I’ve ever heard in any genre.
A mere year later, the band is back with Cauldron of the Wild, and her voice has evolved even further, going from whispered lilts, to an Ann Wilson (Heart) high register vibrato, to raspy and wicked growls. The latter most often come across convincingly and powerfully (as heard on “Veil of the Forgotten”), but a few others (like on “Beekeeper”) are a bit strange. They’re mostly grim, but a bit nervous-sounding, as though Plotkin isn’t completely sure what she’s going for. Still, this is a hiccup barely even worth mentioning, given how utterly mind-blowing her clean vocals are. I would pick a particular song that I feel showcases her prowess, but the truth is that every song is a magnificent testament to her incomparable ability and versatility. I’m also pleased to report that she (and the rest of the band) also deliver fantastic performances live, and every note rings out as perfectly as it sounds on the record. The good news is that Witch Mountain is showing no signs of slowing down, so it’s likely even more extensive touring is in their future. If they come burning through your town, don’t miss out.
Witch Mountain’s songwriting has grown as well, not in overt complexity, but certainly in depth and total resonance. More solid than ever, “The Ballad of Lanky Rae” is a whiskey-soaked Southern romp of folkloric lyrical hyperbole and sludgy, fuzzy, goodness. I swear I’m not biased because of the song’s name, but it’s one of my favorites on the album. Old-school heaviness like this is hard to come by, but Witch Mountain delivers laid-back and weighty riffs that allow Plotkin’s spiced honey voice to pour over the buzz.
“Shelter” is a doomy blues piece that uses sections of sparse, tasteful, instrumentation to create astonishing contrast once the crushing riffs come back in with full force. Things take a pace-shifting towards the end, with Witch Mountain gathering speed with a flurry of fills and Uta’s voice rising as the guitars chug mightily along. There’s also a growl here that seems to emerge from the depths of Hell and rings out even when the rest of the band falls silent. Wrong’s solo that follows is a smoldering send-off for the song, and the album continues on to “Veil of the Forgotten”, another sinful-sounding doom tour de force.
This album doesn’t have a single throwaway track, and it’s as if Witch Mountain saves the absolute best for last. “Aurelia” begins with a solo guitar introduction that sets the somber tone that makes this song nearly 12 minutes of wrenching beauty. Uta’s voice is gentle, mournful, and captivating as she weaves a vulnerable tale of sorrow. The first few minutes have barely any accompaniment, but slowly sensuous guitars come creeping in along with steady and deliberate drumming. Closing with “Never Know”, a slow-burning and dangerously come-hither song where Uta croons, “Don’t know if you’re dead/ But I like it that way.” The quiet seduction is interrupted halfway through by bone-splintering walls of guitar, and the glorious return of Plotkin’s powerful and reverberating serenade. Her voice is the very last instrument heard on Cauldron of the Wild, ensuring that the album ends on a breathtaking note.
Cauldron of the Wild is a step up from the already great South of Salem, and Witch Mountain is undoubtedly a band worthy of the accolades they’ve been collecting as of late. There’s not a weak link in this fearsome foursome, and I’m certainly going to listen to whatever these Portlanders conjure up next. If you possess even the most infinitesimal spark of interest in the latest wave of doom metal, you’d be wise to do the same.