Review Summary: No matter what they might have you believe, there was more than dust left behind by these grunge rockers.
In the early 90’s when the world was being engulfed by a new musical sound known as grunge and many Seattle bands received worldwide recognition; some bands like the Screaming Trees were left behind. There are numerous possible reasons for this.
For one the Screaming Trees weren’t as comfortable with experimenting with heavier sides of the grunge sound such as the hardcore and metal elements that appealed to the hordes of infuriated teenagers. They were more inclined towards a more classic sound in their mixture of rock, blues, psychedelia and folk. The Screaming Trees were never as dark as Alice in Chains, nor as proficient as Soundgarden, never as sympathetic as Pearl Jam and not nearly as exciting as Nirvana was. Mark Lanegan is a unique and capable vocalist, but he never had what it takes to become an idol like the other frontmen. And let’s face it, if you had one word to describe Lanegan and his voice I bet it wouldn’t be charismatic or exciting. Still, Screaming Trees received moderate success with the release of Sweet Oblivion, but it wasn’t until 1996 in the wake of demise of the Seattle sound that they released a record that would make them worthy to be part of grunge’s legacy.
Another aspect that separates Screaming Trees from their peers is that they’re not all doom and gloom. There are plenty of love songs to be expected; sometimes they’re incredibly catchy (Make My Mind), at times a bit cliché (Look at You). But most of all, it’s good to know they haven’t forgotten how to rock; Witness should clear that up nicely. The Traveler, appropriately to the title, moves along slowly, while Lanegan sings in despair: “I'm half way here, I'm half way there, all along I've been the traveler.” successfully evocating the motion of an eternal journey. The closer Gospel Plow, a spin on a traditional American folk song, is another gem and the perfect resolution to the album starting and ending with an intriguing tribal beat.
Ultimately, the Screaming Trees will never be able to achieve a following, which is enjoyed amongst their peers, but a quick look at Dying Days, a track commemorating the death of several of Lanegan's close friends, and of the grunge scene in general (Mike McCready of Pearl Jam makes an appearance as well), will show that the Screaming Trees were as integral to the Seattle sound as any other band.