Stoner and sludge are often cool. Doom metal is always cool – even the name of the genre. From this follows, with the steel logic of Aristotelian syllogism, that stoner/sludge/doom is cool. Space Witch are a real band’s band: they’ve been around since 2007, released a host of demos, EPs and splits and finally – in 2014 – a self-titled debut album. With so much groundwork done, much can be expected from their sophomore full-length, and much is what we get.
Arcanum opens with a strange, beeping feedback noise, but it isn’t long before the first psychedelic, heavy, experimental doom riff chugging song begins. The 16 minute behemoth “Cosmonoid” marries oriental scales, down-tuned rhythm guitars and spaced out synthesizer sounds in an amazing, progressive mash-up that feels surprisingly held together, despite the many seemingly disparate elements. The funeral doom, the stoner rock, the bizarre Sci-Fi sounds and a host of other influences are so well welded together that this album could well have parented some of these genres, rather than the other way around. A little less than ten minutes in, the tempo shifts into higher gear for a few moments, while the synths do their thing and the guitars rock out for a while. It’s splendid.
“Astro Genocide” sets out, perhaps not surprisingly, on a slightly darker path. The first couple of seconds sound like something from a down-tuned version of Darkthrone’s Panzerfaust, but as the track progresses it becomes a bit more… Well, progressive. It keeps an ominous tone throughout, though, and offers one of the comparatively few vocal parts on this largely instrumental album. One of the problems with normal stoner rock is that the vocals are often pretty terrible, reminding us all of why we listen to extreme music rather than grunge, rock and Black Sabbath cover bands. Space Witch goes for angry shouts and spoken word instead, and it works fine. Should they at some point elect to get a permanent vocalist, I would never the less suggest a deep growler.
“Hex” offers some more angry shouts, and some more dark, progressive, sludgy, stoned doom. The vocals did grow on me a bit by this point during my first listen, but no-one would die without them, and Esoteric style growling would be better (for I remain 18 years old at heart). Closing track “Battle Hag” is, apart from the winner of the album’s Most Awesome Track Title Competition, also somehow the heaviest composition on here. It moves slowly and tortuously, and the spacey synth sounds and notes whirl around the rheumatic march of the guitars and bass. When the tempo picks up four minutes in, we’re already settled in a very strange mood. The song mutates several times during its playtime, but at least at this point I believe that it is my favorite on the album.
With Arcanum, Space Witch have created something truly impressive. The fusion of stoner, sludge, doom and progressive rock could have felt forced or masturbatory, but feels just the opposite (voluntary and copulatory?). A solid core of heavy, down-tuned stoner guitars, excellently paced with interesting drum work, is adorned by beautiful melodies and strange synth work, creating something which could probably be described as a masterpiece.
An additional thought is that I would really, really like to see Space Witch live. Arcanum will be released on severely limited, colored vinyl on the 9th of June, and I suggest you bookmark this review and make sure to get it the second it comes out on Hevisike Records.