The latest from Witnesses is a dark and gloomy affair, and it is one you’ll be glad you had.
Greg Schwan is the force behind Witnesses – he is the composer and he plays many of the instruments, with a few collaborators and guests, including Matt Kozar (Ebow and guitars), Kody Ternes (vocals), and Scott Loose (making an appearance on the title track). The music is hard to pigeonhole, although it can certainly be described in the case of Doom II as doom metal expanded along (and crossed over) additional lines. It is bleak and full of misery and suffering. If that sounds intriguing, then we are getting somewhere.
“On This Black Ocean” opens with one minute of heavy, crushing riffs, steady and all doom. The music breaks to a bass line and a melodic voice that begins the narrative. This is a theme album, with a clear dramatic arc. From the published summary, “The album consists of six songs about a plague born at sea, which makes it to land, to a village that hopes its story will not be forgotten.” Timely. “On this black ocean / we were sent with a warning / but days ago we lost sight of the shore / the captain went mad / and down below they’re showing signs.” The juxtaposition of the soft voice and the plague theme along with the sudden clubbing guitars is not merely compelling, it is captivating. “I Hope Their Prayers Aren’t Answered” is next, and it begins in a frantic clapping frenzy. The doom settles in and the story continues. In the middle of this 11+ minute song, madness and fear take hold, and the music is discordant at times. The first half ends with the title track, a single cymbal note repeated, then desperate passages; percussion, violins, and the guitar again. The devastating guitar. And there we are, not halfway through yet.
Look, this is not a traditional doom album. It is not catchy. But the compositions are fully realized, rendered, and fascinating, and the theme and music are heavy. I think it is excellent. What I am going to do now is dig up everything I can find that Greg Schwan has published and listen to it. Recommended.
Doom II is out today, Sunday May 31. Bandcamp has it, and Soundcloud and Spotify. Imperil your expectations and listen.