THE WATCHERS – High And Alive EP

Following two enjoyable studio releases, San Francisco stoner rock band The Watchers give fans a genuine treat with their third release. ‘High And Alive’ shows the band in their natural environment, in front of an enthusiastic crowd. With four tracks recorded at The House of Rock, the EP shows how much better this band sounds without the constraints of a studio and with some extra volume applied.

One of The Watchers’ fastest tunes, ‘Sabbath Highway’ is presented in what could be seen as its definitive recording. The studio take was decent enough, although a DIY production style meant that it didn’t quite match a few better known stoner bands in terms of bottom end. There’s no such issue here: at the point the main riff hits on this live take, the band sound ready to tear off the roof…and it’s literally taken them seconds. It’s easy to recall classic works by Trouble as well as other melodic stoner/doom works of the early 90s throughout, but The Watchers play everything with a huge amount of enthusiasm, making what could be an over-familiar sound seem both fresh and exciting. Of particular note is Tim Narducci’s vocal performance; this really shows a man who’s not just comfortable being on stage, but also able to deliver the kind of force required as if it were the most natural thing in the world. ‘Just A Needle’ lends a genuine highlight, since Jeremy Von Epp’s guitar takes on a really sludgy sound throughout. The grinding noises during the intro sound as if they could cut through anything, but the main riff is twice as dirty as the studio recording, again, proving that The Watchers’ live presence is immense. By the time the instrumental break rolls around, the bass is pushed up in the mix, giving a real feeling of a band who could possibly be a threat to many a headline act.

The more recent material from ‘Black Abyss’ comes across with just as much gusto. With a heavier edge and a truckload of groove, the live recording of ‘Starfire’ is a perfect snapshot of The Watchers’ more southern-edged stoner influences. Pretty quickly, the track settles into something that could be a Black Label Society banger, while clinging on to accessible melodic edge that recalls parts of the Black Stone Cherry debut. As before, every action is taken to reproduce the same studio arrangement, but the extra distortion and Jeremy’s furious soloing really captures moments of sheer intensity. The title track from ‘Black Abyss’ doesn’t quite have the same flair – its slower riffs retain a feeling that it’s only really for stoner and doom fans and could leave the heavy blues rock crowd behind – but everything is impeccably played. The heavy use of a wah-wah pedal is a highlight of this particular take and, as before, Narducci’s wails take on a classic mood throughout. The Watchers aren’t especially big on extended jams or giving a hugely different take on their studio works, but this is yet another example of a band sounding much better when on stage.

By keeping crowd noise to a minimum, it’s sometimes difficult to believe that this was recorded at a gig at all… but whichever way you look at it, ‘High And Live’ is a really enjoyable set. By taking two songs apiece from their studio releases (2018’s ‘Black Abyss’ and 2016’s ‘Sabbath Highway’) this live EP gives a very balanced overview of their work to date, and despite being short, it also manages to be incredibly satisfying. For fans of Zakk Wylde, Orange Goblin and MissingMile, this digital release could be an absolutely essential collection filler.

March 2020