When bands shake up their lineups, the changes can be significant as far as the nature of future output as well as public perception. The impact is oftentimes much more profound when the change involves the vocalist, especially with regard to how the audience will respond. Needless to say, it was a big deal to heshers when Dio replaced Ozzy, or when Bruce Dickinson replaced Paul DiAnno. So when WITCH MOUNTAIN‘s Uta Plotkin departed the fold in 2014, many took notice. Her soaring, soothing voice took the band to another level when she joined in 2009. That isn’t to say that guitarist/vocalist Rob Wrong wasn’t impressive with his own likable voice, one that’s like an unrefined version of KYUSS‘s John Garcia. But Plotkin clearly took the band into a new and improved hazy realm.
In the wake of Plotkin‘s departure, it didn’t take long for the Portland band to find a replacement in Kayla Dixon, with whom it has since toured alongside the likes of DANZIG, ST. VITUS and THE SKULL. So while the ensemble’s revised lineup isn’t “new” per se, it is to most people familiar with the band who haven’t heard the members perform together. Interestingly enough and serving the point that vocalist changes are given more attention and notice, she wasn’t the only source of new blood. Bassist Justin Brown also joined the fold in 2015. (The lineup is rounded out by drummer Nathan Carson, who has been alongside Wrong since the band’s inception in 1997.)
The revamped collective’s several years spent together is obvious on the band’s recently released, eponymously entitled fifth album. So, how does the “newbie” measure up to her predecessor? In short, she does so with excellence. Plotkin‘s impressive vocal abilities entails a resonance perfectly suitable for the blues, which of course goes hand in hand with doom metal. Dixon similarly has a strong grasp of the importance of dynamics and the ability to properly deliver lines that either fit or lift up the songs to appropriate places. Dixon‘s voice isn’t void of the bluesy qualities Plotkin is known for, however, there’s a stronger focus on dramatic, soaring vocals lines. WITCH MOUNTAIN couldn’t have found a more appropriate replacement; one that’s arguably better than Plotkin. She’s a key factor contributing to what amounts to WITCH MOUNTAIN‘s best album to date.
There is little to no fat throughout. “Midnight” start things off with a hefty riff and beat that grooves and swings with a bluesy touch that provides the backdrop to Dixon‘s monstrous vocals. She injects a healthy dose of R&B into “Hellfire”, a number that truly highlights her talents and control. At times, her voice is arguably as soulful and passionate as Janis Joplin. She also injects demonic screeching vocals that are impressive enough on their own to be the focal point of a black metal release. Her “bad cop” voice is particularly vicious on “Burn You Down”.
Again, as integral as she is to what amounts to WITCH MOUNTAIN‘s best effort to date, the power and value of the rest of the band and music simply can’t be denied. Wrong has focused his songwriting on what matters and sticks. The band was guilty of occasionally meandering in the past, but riffs are no longer overplayed. And Carson continues to punctuate the songs with his snappy drumming style that generally augments the songs and propels them when required. Carson and Wrong are locked in to the tight groove and charming start-and-stop riff and beat interplay that drives major parts of both “Midnight” and follow-up track “Mechanical World”.
“Witch Mountain” is incredible because it is so rich with nuance and dynamics. There is a lot of detail requiring multiple listening sessions to fully soak in and appreciate. Releasing your best album two decades into your career is something most long-running bands would die for. And as long as they can remain on this trajectory with this lineup, the sky is the limit for WITCH MOUNTAIN.