Y’know now I think about it I’m sure Purple Hill Witch was the answer I got when I did a ‘What Is Your Stoner band name’ internet quiz. Ahem. Anyway: Hailing from Oslo, and either named after a mound covered in heather where dwells a misunderstood old lady, or an equally misunderstood old lady of mountainous origin recently steeped in Ribena, Purple Hill Witch release this their debut on the highly respected Church Within label. Their name should give you a pretty clear indication of their sound of origin but to make it even clearer they cite their influences as Black Sabbath, Sleep and Electric Wizard. Stoner doom then? Yep, in spades, spliffs and flares.
From the opening fuzzed out bass notes of first song ‘Queen Of The Hill’, even before it relaxes and slides into a nice lazy swirling riff, it’s pretty clear that Purple Hill Witch are a band who wear their influences on their sleeves. There is a huge dollop of Electric Wizard worship going on here with that same drawling vocal style and the riff, but with their exploitation film nihilistic, nod driven spite pulled significantly. Lead breaks lean much more on early Sabbath and the seemingly huge effort Iommi conveyed when pulling that glorious sound of his out of the slow bludgeon into light canter. It’s a nice fairly lush production that eases the sound around you like a soft, thick velvet seventies glove.
Ok so we’re not looking for originality here; not a crime as long as there’s a spark or a certain energy that means you would search this lot out even with the originals close at hand, and the Sabbath lead break on that first song has a bounce and groove that actually holds out hope for that. Alas the problem is when they drop back into the riff, the cleaned up Wizard sound and the generic hippyfried lyrics have no grit of texture to really grab me. ‘Astral Booze’ slides into ‘Final Procession’ and ‘Karmanjaka’ at pretty much the same rhythm and tempo with the by now fairly monotonous vocal melody with lots of “Yeaaaah” s and “Alriiight” s at the end of lines. ‘The Landing’ has an opening riff that is so familiar, or at least has the same angles as one I know that it actually niggles me more than the song entertains. The eleven minute closer and eponymous song kind of ushers me in and then mostly leaves my mind to wander alone.
Yeah. That’s the bad. On the plus side I can kind of see why they got signed: There is an easy, laid back togetherness about the band, particularly when bass and drums backfill on the solos, and the dexterity shown there and elsewhere is satisfyingly casual too. They are clearly comfortable in their chosen genre and little touches of a Kyuss sound to the guitar are nice.
Doom is a tricky thing to get right, and few do out of the gate and even fewer establish their own identity so early. Stoner doom is doubly tricky as the lure of repetitive cliché is heavy as the band tries to get a musical nod on. Purple Hill Witch unfortunately for all their laid back burgeoning talent are tangled in both problems. Here on the debut the basic song template is, I feel, way over used and results in the album being somewhat unengaging and a single texture throughout. The vocals need a lot more variation too as so far only Electric Wizard, with the nasty sneering undertones and drugged out bleakness, have made that style interesting for an entire album. But to stress again; first album and such an obvious comfort in and love of their chosen genre should lead them to far greater things once they take that first big step out from under the shadow of their influences.
Seventies freaks should have a listen and see regardless. Sadly though this one just didn’t do it for me. Keep watching though, it will get better.