Overall Score: 8/10 Songs: 8/10 Production: 10/10 Atmosphere: 8/10 Pros: If you like ATW you will love this. Cons: None. Just be glad it's here, we need all the nice things we can get.
If nothing else, 2020 has been an absolute crackerjack year for lovers of stoner and psych rock. There have been many surprises, with new acts emerging with total bangers, up and comers making good on early promise and trusted veterans still bringing the riffs. I guess, at this point All Them Witches fit into the latter category, having been on a run of excellent album releases since, at least, 2015’s Dying Surfer Meets His Maker. They have now released four great albums in six years, which really speaks to the quality and prodigious output of this unassuming Nashville power trio.
The big talking point ahead of Nothing As The Ideal was the news that the band had abandoned recording in their home studio and booked themselves into Studio 2 at Abbey Road, where a certain band called The Beatles used to record. Now Abbey Road is probably more famous than 90% of the acts that have recorded there since The Beatles time, and All Them Witches don’t need borrowed glamour or tech-fetish kudos to impress. Of course the vintage equipment suits the bands classic psych-blues leanings, and in truth they have never sounded better, but it is the songs and the performances that ultimately make this album such a winner.
If, as a consequence of its circumstances, you are expecting a shinier, upbeat psych-pop record, then you are going to be sorely disappointed. Nothing as the Ideal is the darkest album ATW have yet recorded, a product of it’s times no doubt, but also perhaps a certain wicked, gothic theatricality has rubbed off on the band after touring with Ghost and Tribulation.
The album opens with Saturnine & Iron Jaw and a sample of what sounds like a demon on a respirator in some satanic hospice, as a tolling bell rings out his last hours. It’s the sort of eerie interlude I would expect to hear on an Oranssi Pazuzu album, not the work of All Them Witches, who have always been more Pink Floyd than Possessed. As ever Charles Michael Parks Jr’s lyrics are nebulous (even the rest of the band don’t know what his songs are about) but saturnine means gloomy and ‘…Iron Jaw’ can easily be misheard as ‘I endure’ – “gloomy and I endure” could be the very summation of this years mood. The album title comes from a line in the opener and is not the only time the idea of escape from reality is mentioned. The song itself has many of the familiar textures: bluesy introspection married to grinding riffs and trippy tape manipulated vocals. The other most notable thing is the sound of the drums, which are absolutely huge – not just in the room but in your face! I would say that if Abbey Road has done anything for ATW it is to showcase just how talented a bunch of musicians they are, especially Robby Staebler. It’s the best drum sound by the best sounding drummer this year. Spectacular stuff.
The darkness, and the almost ever-present, dirtier, heavier riffage continues on Enemy of my Enemy, which also features a speedy prog-metal denouement that will thrill Tool-fans.
There is then a pretty instrumental, with an almost medieval melody, before we are tipped back into the darkness on See You Next Fall. The only track not recorded at Abbey Road, it was pieced together from hours of jamming and it too is preceded by horror movie style samples. A Jane’s Addiction style rolling bass line and lysergic, high-pitched soloing lead into a meditative but menacing slow burn of a song on which, despite Parks usual restrained vocal delivery he somehow sounds absolutely bloody livid. The chorus makes it unusually plain as to Parks state of mind “A good day, for me at least / I’m not grinding my teeth/ I’m not lying awake”.
The Children of Coyote Woman contains a more typical ATW lyric, being an imaginative retelling of Romulus and Remus, spliced with elements of Native American mythology and re-framed as a classic folk tale over picked acoustic and slide guitars. In the background you can hear the rainfall and thunder of a storm as the tragedy nears it’s conclusion in the town graveyard. It could easily be part of an imaginary soundtrack to Neil Gaiman’s American Gods and displays Parks’ mastery of the classic songwriters craft, full of ‘Titan gods’ and ‘good old boys’ it is a mini-masterpiece.
The heavy riffing continues across 41 and the pugnacious yet flashy Lights Out before the closing Rats In Ruin, upon which a tremulous hush settles. After about three minutes of acoustic strum, delicate slide and Parks barely-there, sad vocals there is some bird song, ominous feedback and reverb before acoustic guitars picking back up again with a tentative but vaguely heroic refrain, the drums finally kicking in alongside the now animated slide work from Ben McLeod. And then it’s all over, and you really wish it wasn’t.
Nothing as the Ideal finds All Them Witches working on a grand canvas yet with a tighter focus and cements their place as one of the most consistently interesting rock bands on the planet.
The new All Them Witchers album, Nothing as the Ideal, is out now on New West Records. Pick up the album directly from the band at their official website.