By Gruesome Greg
Their comeback album, South of Salem, really captured my imagination, but can they follow it up with another gem, or do we have another Black Pyramid II on our hands? Having heard a live preview of these tunes at the Hard Luck Bar, I can say this Cauldron certainly sounds promising. Another certainty: these songs have been super-sized, the six tracks spanning nearly seven minutes longer than their predecessor.
“The Ballad of Lanky Rae” kicks things off—a Poison-penned power ballad this is not. From the opening barrage, it’s clear that little has changed in the Witch Mountain camp, as it’s not long before Uta Plotkin lends her impressive pipes to the proceedings. This one wouldn’t have been outta place on South of Salem, sandwiched somewhere between “Plastic Cage” and “South Sugar” for instance.
“Beekeeper” stings with its sludgy stomp, Plotkin’s vocals coming in exclusively on the left channel of my headphones. I get the impression that Billy Anderson didn’t want her voice soaring overtop the mix on this record, but acting more in harmony with the other instruments. Her evil cackle on either side of the two-minute mark really puts the Witch in Witch Mountain as Rob Wrong delivers a punishing stop-start riff that’s perfectly punctuated for slow-motion headbanging. “Shelter” seemingly slows things down even further than the two previous numbers (if that’s even possible), its verses deftly alternating between soulful singing and heavy riffage—and another great doomy head-nodder hits around the five-minute mark, this tune picking up speed somewhat down the home stretch.
The band definitely takes on a more metallic bent on this album than the bluesier South of Salem, with Plotkin even adopting a black-metal growl on tunes like “Veil of the Forgotten” and the aforementioned “Beekeeper.” A waste of a beautiful voice, if you ask me, although these moments don’t tend to last more than a couple stanzas here and there (albeit much more prominent on the former).
The album ends with a pair of long ones, “Aurelia” and “Never Know” lasting more than 21 minutes between them. The former begins on a sparse, melodious note that would’ve had me holding up a lighter at the concert if I had one on me. After some three-and-a-half minutes of lush balladry, we’re treated to the first touch of heaviness, followed by a brief, fleeting solo before it’s back to basics again, this song sorta standing out from the rest of the album, but not entirely dissimilar to SOS’ “Hare’s Snare” in that regard. On that note, this is one of Plotkin’s most stirring performances on record—no black-metal squeals in sight!
“Never Know” begins with a soft bassline, the rest of the band slowly coming into the picture. Like “Aurelia,” this one starts out on a minimalist note, more of a jazz/blues feel to the initial proceedings—making up for the lack of said sounds over the album’s first 25 minutes. This one takes even longer to amp up the volume than its predecessor despite being two minutes shorter, Plotkin letting out a mighty cry just shy of five minutes in to announce that the doom has arrived.
On the whole, I’d say this record compares favourably to their breakthrough release, though it’s definitely its own beast. Might hafta knock it down a notch or two for use of black-metal vocals and for stacking the two long, softer numbers back-to-back—but I’m probably just nit-picking at this point. If South of Salem made you a believer, you’ll be defending keeping the faith with Cauldron of the Wild.