Portland, Oregon doom-mongers Witch Mountain have been roaming the underworld since 1997, but didn’t start picking up steam until they were joined by vocalist Uta Plotkin in 2009 and subsequently released their second album (and first new release in ten years) in 2011, the well-regarded South of Salem. Plotkin’s presence rejuvenated the band, leading to increased live activity, a record deal with Profound Lore and finally culminating in Cauldron of the Wild, an album that sees Witch Mountain coming into their own as top-tier purveyors of traditional American doom.
Plotkin’s vocals are the album’s impressive centerpiece, possessing an earthy grit that recalls the likes of Janis Joplin and Ann Wilson. When she hits the higher registers, it makes for an interesting contrast with guitarist Rob Wrong’s down ‘n’ dirty riffage, opening a doorway in your mind to an alternate dimension where Pentagram was the first female-fronted doom band. Witch Mountain’s music owes much to Pentagram, as well as Black Sabbath, but it is also apparent that the quartet understands and respects doom’s roots in the blues; if you dialed back the distortion on tracks like “The Ballad of Lanky Rae” and “Shelter,” you could play ‘em down at the crossroads and even the Devil himself would never be the wiser.
Indeed, Witch Mountain’s darkness is not of the heavily affected variety that so many metal bands choose to adopt; it is a mutation of the very real darkness that crept out of the Mississippi Delta all those years ago, the same darkness that convinced Robert Johnson he had a hellhound on his trail, the same darkness that Iommi, Liebling and Weinrich tapped into and harnessed at the dawn of doom. It is primal, primordial and primeval, and its presence is palpable throughout Cauldron of the Wild. It oozes out of every down-tuned and distorted note, every trudging, shuffling rhythm and every mesmerizing vocal melody.
Cauldron of the Wild isn’t an attempt to reinvent the wheel, rather it is a reinterpretation and reaffirmation of the classic doom tradition. Witch Mountain has created an album that shows great reverence for that tradtion, while at the same time placing their own ten-ton stamp upon it. Here’s to hoping their Devil’s bargain doesn’t end anytime soon.