5 out of 5
Label: New West Records
Produced by: Ben McLeod, Mikey Allred
There are a lot of bands similar to All Them Witches floating around, and have been for quite some time; as long as people have been influenced by Black Sabbath, Zeppelin, and any other heavy metal mainstays from that era – and obviously people have getting influenced by them ever since – there have been bands trying to mimic or recontextualize slow burn sludge and heavy metal riffage in various ways. That goes in a Wolfmother direction, or you can bring in some folk, some blues, some psychedelia – All Them Witches-style – and find Black Mountain, or go even fuzzier and weirder with the likes of King Gizzard.
Inevitably, not all of that stuff is good, but also – if less inevitably – there have been some great bands, and great albums. ATW have coasted somewhere shy of the claims to fame or notoriety of some of those greats, but have provided a sturdy and steady variation on the above. And though those are terms I’d still apply to Dying Surfer Meets His Maker, their 2015 album, I’d also say this is something most bands in this vein dream of producing: the epic album, on which every track feels as important as the next; every moment bleeds into and builds the next one; and every song is somehow still unique. The special sauce are those two adjectives: ATW are not showy. Even when letting songs crawls out to 5, 6, 7 minutes, we’re not blasted with brain-melting solos, or head-banging to a sudden surge in volume. While that might seem like a negative in some ways, it’s what further makes Dying Surfer feel unique – this slow and propulsive and purposeful surge of grooving tracks, some rocking, some folking, that never push, but allow draw the listener in subtly with a confident melody, and Charles Michael Parks Jr.’s patient, near-pleading vocals. The album’s title feels like a proper summary of that: the icon of “chill” – a surfer – having to face his mortality; the cover a slab of hard stone atop a trippy background.
The production (from Mikey Allred and band member Ben McLeod) is equally understanding: there’s the reverb and warmth of familiar to bands in this scene, but an equal urgency when the drums need to kick; when Parks’ vocals need to soar. And yet, again, we’re never being forced from a quiet moment to a loud one, the sequencing not even following a “predictable” wave between those two styles, rather just leading us, hand-in-hand, to ebbs and flows that seem to come naturally, across 40-minutes that pass in a breeze, but not without impact – these are impactful songs that are easy to let yourself be impacted by.