The self-released LP was widely acclaimed, bracketed near the top of many 2011 end of year lists, mine included. Accordingly, expectations for Cauldron Of The Wild are set at atmospheric levels.
Uta Plotkin's incredible performance sits at the heart of Cauldron Of The Wild's palpable solemnity. Her voice—by turns plaintive, raw and hypnotic—imbues Witch Mountain's Southern-tinged doom with the kind of hard-times honesty attributable to iconic singers such as Billie Holiday or Janis Joplin. Plotkin’s power and fluency cannot be understated; her superlative vocal talent saturates the album with soulful authenticity.
On "Lanky Rae" she runs the gauntlet from smoky howls to bluesy spoken word passages as the band lays the bedrock of dirty Sleep-worthy churns. On "Beekeeper", her ascendant cries reach stratospheric heights, soaring over the morass of swampy riffs with consummate self-assurance.
With new bass player Neal Munson joining drummer Nate Carson and guitarist and vocalist Rob Wrong, the rest of the band are equally adept at crafting down-tempo tour de forces. Like those of fellow Profound Lore labelmates Yob and Pallbearer, the band's crawling rhythms ooze plenty of wonderful Sabbath-sized riffs. Witch Mountain mine every ounce of their groove-laden potential on "Veil of the Forgotten" and "Never Know"—settling into a thunderous cadence that highlights the chasmic depths of their creative capabilities.
Not a note is out of place. Each song builds upon a stratum of grit and ruination with a deliberate sense of portentousness—and what could be more quintessentially doom than that? The interplay between the musicians is watertight. Wrong's guitars are burly and ragged where they need to be, yet eloquent when called for. Carson pounds those drums with herculean might, emphasizing the foreboding passages, while Munson grounds it all, his bass work unyielding.
Every song has a distinctive, entrancing nature. The songwriting on South of Salem was impressive enough, but here the compositions are magnificently expressive and resonant. The 11 minute plus "Aurelia" is a master class in epic doom. Its slow-build heaviness intensifies as Plotkin's operatic vocals hit celestial levels; a dramatic solo leads to its languid, ominous outro.
"Shelter" brings the band's blues foundation to the fore, grinding along on a martial beat and sultry vocals. Then Wrong cleaves it all in two with the feedbacking scream of his consistently filthy guitar tone, and guttural roars gather the storm clouds.
Cauldron Of The Wild is flawless. Amp-fusing riffs, kaleidoscopic solos and corpulent tones abound, sludgy dissonance haunts the alcoves, and there's a thickness and weight that evokes '70s heavy rock at its finest. If you're searching for metal with a tangible sense of gravitas, here it is in abundance.
Witch Mountain may have released only three albums so far, but it's clear they've set a life of experience behind these works. They’ve crafted an utterly stunning work of haunting doom, with delectable visions of ill-omened landscapes. Time to reshuffle your 2012 end of year list all over again. (released June 12, 2012, on Profound Lore Records)