I’d barely heard of Witch Mountain three months ago. Now I’ve seen them live three times and gotten into all sorts of hijinks with them. Yet, my sudden obsession with the band came at a strange time in their career, a time of great change, when the world that Witch Mountain had built up for themselves might suddenly be lost. In the period leading up to their upcoming record Mobile of Angels Witch Mountain seemed to leap from peak to peak. First they played some massive festivals in Europe, then they were featured on NPR, then they got a slot opening for Nick Turner’s Hawkwind. Of course, when you realize the band is on the verge of losing the singer who has helped define them things become a bit more bittersweet.
Perhaps we need to first look at the origins of the band to understand where they’re coming from. They formed with the dynamic duo of Rob Wrong and Nathan Carson in 1997. For the first five years of the band Rob performed vocal duties as well as playing guitar, while Nate plugged along on drums. Yet, after the release of the bands first record in 2001 they went on a sort of hiatus, not putting out any new material for 10 years. When they found Uta Plotkin the bands new vocalist it seems like things took off again. In the last four years the band has put out three records and an EP. This period may have been the bands golden years.
There is a poignant glory to the trudge of this bands music. The way songs like Shelter seem to drive forward with sudden halts thrown seemingly willy nilly throughout gives the band a strange sense of purpose. They have a powerful blues-oriented attack that sets them a cut above their peers. Uta once told me she liked being Witch Mountain because she loved heavy music as well as the blues, and this seemed like a good marriage of the two. A large part of the appeal of this band for me is that they create a certain depth to a sound that is very trendy right now. There is a strong sense of tradition in Witch Mountain insofar as suggestion that we as fans should respect our musical elders and try to use some of their best ideas for our own music. One memorable interview quote seems to reflect this, when Nate Carson told me “We’re adding to the tradition, but not breaking the mold.”
This speaks to the ideal of doom that seems to be espoused by the band. They want to craft something that really touches the listener in a personal way, yet also broadens the genre they love. As Carson said “I had this really incredible epiphany about doom metal in 1996. All of these planets kind of aligned and I all of the sudden realized it was a traditional form of music and I had never played a traditional form of music before. I thought I would just come off as derivative, or riding the coattails of some bigger band. But once I started to really see the clear picture of what bands like Trouble and Candlemass where doing and that it wasn’t just Sabbath worship but that they really had their own mark to make on the form it gave me hope that we could do the same.”
This also evidences a sort of destiny that I feel around Nate, he is a full time metal booker and seems to have his fingers in a lot of pies. Yet that too has helped further the band and get them the recognition that they deserve. Perhaps his path to growing the popularity of Witch Mountain should be used as an example for others. Here is a man who can so perfectly honor the power of his scene with his work that I have never heard anyone speak poorly of him. In my eyes at least he has become something of a mythical figure, one of those ‘metal lifers’ who seem to have it all figured out.
The extremely natural power of this band actually makes sense when you think about it. The band is very proud of their Portland heritage, and it’s certainly seemed to impact their music. When I spoke with Carson at Hellfest he said “We’d be driving to practice and we’d say look at the black roiling clouds. Of course we make music like this because it’s really beautiful and the sky looks angry. I think that creates a certain kind of depth and emotional heaviness naturally. We’re surrounded by mountains and epic forests and dark clouds.” This too touches on how this band wants to give doom the glory it deserves, not for their own financial benefit, but only because it feels natural. Witch Mountain have an extremely primal approach to music and I think that is a large part of what drives them to success.
This is why I’m so concerned now about the future of this band. They are one of the few acts who reflect what doom metal is about but also seem to have a more profound understanding of humanity than many of their peers. Even as they prepare for a hiatus the band members have other things going on. Most notably, Charles Thomas, the bands bassist is preparing to drive forward with his other band Blackwitch Pudding, a rather humorous sludge act who have a very distinct attack that is enhanced with copious amounts of weed. Their new record, Covered in Pudding Vol. 1 took the scene by storm and promises great things to come. Meanwhile, the ever-girlish Uta Plotkin seeks to engage in some solo material, but as regards to sound “I’m not sure yet.” As for Rob and Nate? Who knows, but we certainly haven’t seen the last of them…
Things may seem a bit bleak now, but do not despair my friends, These guys still have plenty of gas in the tank, and I think that Witch Mountain could certainly have an exciting second life with a new singer. And asides from that, there have been hints at something more. Several members of the band suggested to me that there was definitely hope for future Witch Mountain material. The general consensus seems to be that the band won’t go into another 10 year hibernation period, especially now that they’ve started to make a name for themselves. The mountain may have gone to sleep but the legacy remains. Four albums and two EP’s into their career, it’s too late for Witch Mountain to completely stop now, we simply have to hold on and see what happens!