Rock fans and critics have long debated over what constituted “the birth of heavy metal”. Some will claim its roots stem from Dave Davies’s brilliant power chords on those early Kinks singles. Others suggest that the musical genre began to take shape at the end of 1966 when Jimi Hendrix pushed the boundaries and experimented with the sounds an electric guitar could make. Perhaps metal’s origins lie with Deep Purple, as they took 60s beat group and psychedelic sounds into a much more intense direction…? The speed and power could even derive from ‘Communication Breakdown’ from Led Zeppelin’s 1969 debut LP. Although Zeppelin have always been keen to distance themselves from the leather trousered, heavier sounds which came later, there’s an obvious root there.
On February 13th 1970, an album was released that would change the world. Black Sabbath’s self-titled debut album was without question one of the heaviest things the world had heard at the start of a new era for rock music.
Witch Mountain’s 2014 release ‘Mobile of Angels’ was huge in almost every sense. It was an album that at first seemed impenetrable, but patience and an ear for doom riffs slowly revealed a dense but lovingly created paean to all things dark – an album that remains undiminished by the intervening years. It also came with an undertone of sadness: between the recording and release of the record, vocalist Uta Plotkin announced her intentions to leave the band…and in turn, left some pretty huge shoes to fill. Having only been a member for a year, bassist Charles Thomas also exited stage left, leaving a somewhat depleted outfit.
Prior to its release in the last quarter of 2014, Portland’s Witch Mountain proclaimed ‘Mobile of Angels’ to be their “most complete album yet”. At that time, the band had already survived seventeen years of changing musical fashions alongside shifting personnel; the core of their sound now resembling an uncompromising, crushing slowness inflected with a bluesy tone. ‘Mobile’ certainly shows a hugely broad confidence and its material, for the most part, represents top class doom metal. Granted, the bulk of the songs do not necessarily represent anything that anyone bar the more committed doom fan would reach for on a regular basis, but then, it’s unlikely that Witch Mountain were ever looking for mass acceptance with this album – but in terms of becoming one of the strongest acts within their field, it’s a resounding success. It also acts as an epitaph for another phase of the band’s journey, being the last in a trilogy of discs to feature lead vocalist Uta Plotkin.