Review Summary: The great form has no shape
Have you ever encountered the sentiment that rock music is dead? That the era of riff-forward heavy music has fallen off the map in favor of today’s algorithmic approach to manufacturing hits. While I may very well be addressing a phantom, I’d still like to vehemently deny anyone the ability to pursue this line of thinking by pointing at Nothing as the Ideal, the latest long-player recording by Nashville band All Them Witches. There is a small barrier to entry though - you’ll need to free yourself of the constraints imposed by genre overclassification and revel in the spiritual pursuit of creativity. It’s breezy 44 minute runtime is a testament to that tradition of experimentation, honed by the supposedly forgotten forefathers of blues-inspired heavy rock. Throughout their discography All Them Witches have practiced a refreshing disregard for preconceived expectations. To the open-minded, it’s this facet of the band's ideology that injects each new release with a sense of adventure, and this one is no different. Go find a nice pair of headphones.
The stage is set with unsettling ambience as distant church bells ring out to remind all that the hour has arrived. The gate is about to be blown open. A feint bluesy riff recalls places once visited on Dying Surfer Meets His Maker, but that facade crumbles with a punchy chug that imitates nothing else in their discography. The drums hold down a familiar rhythmic intensity, but the context here has shifted. It’s as though time spent touring with Mastodon and Primus has imbued the songs with a newfound heft. The howling slide guitar gymnastics are still here but they’re paired with some absolutely crushing licks. By standard convention All Them Witches have never been definable as a metal band, but you wouldn’t know it at the onset of “Enemy of My Enemy.” This is a heaviness that’s been brandished to suit the style of an adept three piece in lock step. Following the self-titled ATW, the band opted to drop the keyboards for a more minimalist approach. The result of that shift is now on full display. On “See You Next Fall” each musician is afforded the space to playfully explore a hypnotic bassy groove. The result is a track that elicits the experience of swaying in a crowded hot dark bar, drink in hand. (Maybe next fall?) The cohesion between each band member has never been tighter. While I appreciate the effect of the keys on Dying Surfer and Lightning at the Door, successfully calling to mind classic 70s staples, their omission here was a necessary step. The album is sharp and exudes that raw edge you’d expect from a hungry and determined band. The two track run in the middle of the album encapsulates their more mellow and contemplative side, transporting the listener to a distant but natural vantage.
Lyrically All Them Witches have always found a way to infuse an air of great mystery, as though you’ve entered mid story and the teller is some solitary and wise old desert hermit. On the mystical banger “41” Parks heeds, “The great form has no shape, nor evilness upon its face,” perhaps beckoning the unknown destiny awaiting us all. Parks continues to progress as a vocalist, wielding a dynamic blend of soulful croons and punkish aplomb. I considered his effort on their previous release to be his best performance yet, but he may have topped it on this one. The album closes with their most ambitious track to date. With “Rats in Ruin” All Them Witches have crafted a 9+ minute haunting melody that builds seamlessly to a surreal and startling crescendo. It’s the kind of closer that reshapes the entire experience that preceded it; the kind that insists on repeat listens.
All Them Witches may not be the most technical band you’ll encounter, but what’s clear is they don’t want to be. Time and time again they manage to produce a singular and focused vibe that draws the listener into their eerie trip. What’s more, this album provides plenty of evidence that they are capable of galloping full steam ahead when they want to. This is a band that is finding ways to branch outwards, and this record serves as another prominent sign post along the hazy shores of a turbulent creative ocean. I don’t know what else you could possibly hope for in 2020 from a rock band. That’s the ideal.