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REVIEW: All Them Witches – ATW

August Greenberg

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All Them Witches spend their newest album, ATW, diving deep into their country roots. The Nashville-based group has been releasing music since 2012, developing a unique hard rock take on traditional blues rock. But on ATW the group dives headfirst into a distinctly rural sound. The lyrical themes and musical motifs express the band’s deep respect for the lifestyle and musical traditions of flyover country. It’s a fantastic thematic piece, not to be missed by any fan of any stripe of rustic music.

“Fishbelly 86 Onions” sets the tone for the record: hard rock guitars on an unconventional groove with dirty, compressed drums. The vocals are hazy and certainly bluesy. A distorted organ soon joins the mix, playing the melody but adding some impressive fills. The instrumentation stops many times in the track, a typical blues trick to highlight the lyrics, as well as put some amount of power and importance beneath them. The title and lyrics on this first, six-minute jam, are a reference to a 1998 film about a young, gay man maturing in rural America.

“Workhouse” continues the rural themes. A workhouse was a local community’s place to put unemployed to work in the countryside of England and Wales. But the lyrics are not the only references to rural tradition. The track has some stickwork for the groove, and the fuzzy guitars return. Lead singer Charles Michael Parks, Jr. does a great job of playing the role of storyteller, something important to the blues genre and something very fitting of the record. “1st vs. 2nd” focuses much more on the pulse than the previous tracks, with what are almost chugging guitars and drummer Robby Staebler gets to show off on the cymbals. About three minutes into the song, the vocals cease and the band focuses on their instruments. This will not be the last time the group allow their guitars to take the spotlight.

“Half tongue”’s soundscape embraces much more of a desert tone, with a haunting organ hanging just in the back of the track. This, along with two guitars playing off of each other for the melody, but strumming powerfully on the chorus, puts the song in the middle of a gun fight in the wild west. “Half tongue” refers to an English legal tradition that existed to account for bias due to language differences- if one side of a civil or criminal case did not speak English and the other did, half the jury would be selected to speak English and the other half would speak the native tongue of the former side. This continues the themes of referencing English tradition and of the feeling of isolation.

Then arrives my favorite track on the project, “Diamond”. The guitar melody that kicks the track off is haunting and isolating in itself. The track remains very stripped, production-wise. There is a slow but grimy drum beat as well as a pulsing bass. A spooky synthesizer floats above the track, never taking too much attention. The track is honestly just so badass, creating so much tension and power with cool, slow movements. As the track fades, first the guitars, then the drums, then the bass, you may feel yourself letting out a sigh of relief as if you had just encountered something immense and scary but it has altered your emotional state. Guitarist Ben McLeod shines on this song. Check out the video for the track below.

“Harvest Feast” pushes the guitars to their limits, both on the distorted edge of the record and the slow, grooving moments. The band effortlessly switches between hard riffs that build the intense moments and cool strums that allow you room to think in between. I particularly like the vocal melody on this track. Next, on “HJTC”, All Them Witches backs off on the fuzz for a minute to get a slightly more mellow sound. Parks uses it as an opportunity to expand the lyrical themes. “Cause I grew up/I spilled my guts/Even though I didn’t want to say,” he sings. This, coupled with the title (as far as I could find, HJTC stands for “handjob to completion”) seems to recall the opening tracks references to homosexuality and “Half Tongue”’s references to isolation, sewing together the various puzzle pieces that have been spread throughout the album. The album closes with “Rob’s Dream”, which has a (potentially self-explanatory) dreamier tone than the rest of the album. Flangers and tremolo do the trick, painting a watery aural landscape. Although this is itself a contrast to the stiffer edges of the album, the grogginess fits well within the tracklist.

The album is a riveting exercise in intensity. I highly recommend it to any listener who would enjoy a robust, rustic, powerhouse of a 52-minute record.

Recommended: 1, 2, 5, 8.

RIYL: Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Mothership, My Sleeping Karma, Dr. John

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REVIEW: All Them Witches – ATW