There's a certain deep satisfaction that comes with pinpointing the exact moment a band comes of age.
For Nashville upstarts All Them Witches it comes approximately one minute and 15 seconds into their new album 'Sleeping Through The War' just after singer Charlie Parks Jr. croons the eponymous title. Robby Staebler's drums snap backwards as Ben McLeod's fuzzed-up Les Paul uncoils, baring its fangs like a startled rattlesnake to snap the listener out of their bleary-eyed stupor before smashing into an all-out assault on the senses. There are at least three more 'what-the-fuck-just-happened' moments on the opening track 'Bulls' alone, prefiguring a record that continually barrels away from the path of least resistance.
All Them Witches amply demonstrated their capacity to shock and amaze on previous albums 'Lightning At The Door' and 'Dying Surfer Meets His Maker' (their debut, 2012's 'Our Mother Electricity', showed promise but never strayed far from the set heavy blues template followed by countless others).
For a certain set of ATW fans the folk-tinged 'Surfer' might turn out to be impossible to beat in much the same way that a vocal minority still consider 'Led Zeppelin 3' to be the apex of that band's career. But, though that record pushed their sonic boundaries out further than their latest, it also suffered from a hurried recording process, occasionally sounding like the band were playing catch-up with their own inspiration. 'Sleeping Through The War', on the other hand, is so flawlessly crafted that I could happily compare it to Zep's '4' without feeling blasphemous, a rare honour indeed.
'3-5-7' is the epitome of everything a stoner rock track should be. Simultaneously soothing and overwhelming, each rotation of its rickety, circular structure plunges the listener further down into its deep bath of warm fuzz. But it's the dyad nestled at the centre of the record that dazzles the most.
Boasting some of the most hypnotic guitar work Mcleod has ever produced, 'Am I Going Up' and 'Alabaster' each rely on a Colaris-esque plucked melody that seems to echo both backwards and forwards in such a manner that it becomes impossible to tell where one refrain ends and the next begins. Their similar tone but opposing atmospheres (the former aching with longing, the latter eerie and oppressive) forms a sort of yin/yang in the middle of the album that, I hope, links both sides of the vinyl version together perfectly.
Lyrically Parks seems to be preoccupied with how the modern, interconnected world somehow offers more escapism than ever before. The album is bookended by 'Bulls', in which normality is pursued through global apathy towards terrible events, and the self-evident closer 'Guess I'll Go Live On The Internet'. But despite, or perhaps because of this recurring theme of withdrawal and isolation, anxiety constantly bleeds into the record. There's a slow-burning sense of distress woven into the lyrics of 'Bruce Lee' and the Masters Of Reality indebted 'Don't Bring Me Coffee'. Parks sounds like the reluctant sheriff of some post-apocalyptic town, battling constantly to stave off despair amongst his people while secretly longing to lay down his own responsibilities and surrender to the inevitable.
Bands have been ladling big, colourful spoonfuls of psychedelia over the bare bones of the blues for generations; but somehow All Them Witches find a way to make it sound exciting and brand new. Unlike both their peers and their past selves they never veer too far away from what each song needs and are able to bring two vastly different worlds together in perfect focus.
'Sleeping Through The War' strikes the perfect balance of the familiar and the alien to distill 45 minutes of musical opium. Bliss.
Words: Josh Gray
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