It was 6:30pm on a Sunday in Brizzle, and the autumn sun was shining right in my eyes as I peered down at Google Maps. Where was Thekla? Somewhere by the river, okay. Plodding on, some church bells stared ringing from somewhere – apt, really, as I turned the corner and, like some spooky cartoon, my head slowly tilted up to look at a hulking dreadnought. Thekla was a boat. Black and grey, and lashed to the bank with thick, coarse rope, it exuded conquest: I half expected to see a mortar on the deck. And out of the belly of this big black beast thundered deep, earthy chugs; support band The Great Machine were sound checking a colossal riff and it boomed out of a pitch-black open corridor on the side of the ship like some kind of industrial heartbeat.
All Them Witches are a rock band from Nashville, Tennessee, and have been branded by the “press” as neo-psychedelic, dark blues, post-stoner and more. Truth be told, they are all of these and none, but a sense of the occult permeates their mystical, groove-heavy jams. I’d heard great things about these guys on the ol’ Reddit grape vine, and what a perfect location for such a band play. For a percipient and sagacious verbal inquest into the band themselves, check out this sister article; an interview with them backstage by the omnipotent Harry Williams.
a sense of the occult permeates their mystical, groove-heavy jams
A bit later, stood inside the cavernous ribcage of the boat, The Great Machine came on for real, and we all knew about it. A stoner rock band from Israel (I would guess that’s a bit of a rarity), they pounded the life out of their instruments: the drummer stabbed the kick drum so damn hard that the band sticker had totally peeled off by the second song. Oddly, the audience stood stock still, as I suppose is customary during the supporting band, nodding their heads ever so slightly in the face of the loudest support act I’ve ever witnessed, although a massive bloke with a huge blond afro was giving it a good go. Their music (I should probably get on to that) was standard stoner rock with minimal vocals and maximum momentum, and got a bit tiring after a couple of songs.
If The Great Machine lacked sonic variation, All Them Witches were sure to provide it in buckets. I was right. Masters of the rise and fall, they started small, with bass and vocals, before plummeting into the strong groove of ‘Charles William’. Things opened out, and the organ tooted breathily under a sort of dark-country guitar sound: a Nashville twang for sure, but distant and reverberated. The frontman bode his time, singing sparsely with carefree mumbles like a slightly bored but naturally charismatic raconteur. This was a band that knew how to pace things, and the slow, atmospheric sections made the aggressive builds and climaxes all the more satisfying. Highlights were the frantic calls and answers of the guitars and vocals in ‘When God Comes Back’, the folky witchcraft of ‘Open Passageways’ and the Pink-Floyd-gone-Southern they call ‘The Marriage of Coyote Woman’.
All that being said, however, the band’s spacious grooves seemed much more captivating and spell-binding in their recordings, which isn’t usually the case. As stark and ominous as Thekla is, and witchy-instrumentalism considered, I still felt very much like I was at a rock gig in Bristol. Some songs just didn’t have the magic of others – these were usually the newer tracks. And, although they were instrumentally adept, they lacked that extra layer to sound anything more than a bluesy rock four piece – the psychedelia comes across much more strongly on their albums. But for a fresh rock band floating in a sea of pointless niches and labelling addicts, they are bringing something slightly new to the table; polishing stoner rock and stripping it bare, giving the country sound a devilish twinge, and cool-ifying the dad-rocky world of blues guitar. For that, I’m impressed.