Initially formed in France back in 2014, Stone Witch were a two piece experimental doom project which eventually expanded to become a five piece by the time of their first full length release, “The Cross Of Doom”. With influences firmly rooted in the classic stylings of proto-metal, NWOBHM and early doom, it’s got a real good mix but whether this lives up to the promise is another matter completely. Let’s get hexed!
It’s a well documented fact that I am a sucker for anything Sabbathian in influence when it comes to the doom and stoner family of music. Be it due to my fixation on the first five Black Sabbath albums, Tony Iommi being my musical hero or the fact I just love filthy riffs which are simplistic in composition, but massively effective in execution. Whatever it is which is the root of this, whenever I hear something which has that distinct feel and sound to it, my interest is piqued instantly and this is the case with Stone Witch. It’s evident from the opening bars of the album’s opening track “Eerie Valley Of The Crimson Planet” with its crisp but warm fuzz melody with that subtle hint of NWOBHM harmony to it which shifts rather smoothly into a real Sabbathian groove that this has all the makings of something rather good.
Steadily paced for the bulk of the album, with brief forays into wild NWOBHM gallops, it’s rhythmically solid, never really going too out of control. Laced with the subtle NWOBHM harmony melodies in fills and lead sections across the release, along with that trademark, precise delivery of the bluesy feel leads Iommi is known for, the guitar section of this five piece are well versed in the ‘dark arts’ so to speak, but whilst the bass and drums may follow this school of thought, it is the vocals which really stand out. Sounding like a cross between Ben Ward of Orange Goblin and JB of Grand Magus, they’re raw as fuck with plenty of grit and power behind them and listening to them, you can’t help but crack a sly smirk when those gravelly notes come out.
It isn’t all just riffs and licks metal style though. The second track “Beyond The Sharp Vine” has a real filthy blues feel to it, like someone decided to mix some Stevie Ray Vaughan with Black Sabbath, giving a real strange dynamic of soulful blues and early 70’s rocking groove. “Unearthed” which follows this has more of your typical heavy metal meets doom feel to it with the massive sounding riffs and haunting clean sections laden with atmospheric overtures whilst” Holy Smoke” almost ventures into Sleep like territory with some of its riffs but has that NWOBHM feel about it, creating a tug of war between riffs and melodic madness in parts. It really is a diverse album and for those who appreciate the nods to legends of the genre, there’s even a decent rendition of Pentagram’s “Sign Of The Wolf” which is the penultimate track. The moody “Cross Of Doom” which pretty much sums the entire musical approach of the band up closes the track, once more blending all these influences together, delivering raw and powerful vocals with doom laden feel riffs riding on an undercurrent of 80’s classic metal and a real atmospheric nature to cap it all off.
Sure, there are downsides. There feels like a lot of repetition is present riff wise but this is a hallmark of the Sabbathian doom style. The shifts from doomy to classic metal feel a little disjointed in places and the vocals, as good as they are do feel kind of samey at times. The tracks may be a little long for some people’s likings, but you have to remember, this is a doom record, it’s meant to be stand there and nod your head for eight to thirty minutes at a time in terms of songs.
Still, for a first effort, it’s a pretty solid one. The French may be many things which we all mock them for… But you can’t knock them musically, they do seem to churn out some great bands!