By Willow Grier
CALGARY — In a vast and barren wasteland, grey mud oozes over the cracking, overworked earth. Smoke has suffocated trees and turned them into twisted, diabolical skeletons against a turbid sky. Here, an enslaved race crawls about like festering beetles, searching for the last morsels of sustenance in the starved and pulverized place. A king, cold and immovable surveys the scene with disdain, counting his riches as they dwindle, and refusing to repeal his staked claim. This earth may be rotting and decrepit, but it is his inheritance, and he will suck every last ounce of profit from its wrinkled stores before moving on to his next conquest.
This imagery, a hyperbolic otherworldy imagining of a real life situation is brought into existence by Calgary psychedelic doom band Witchstone on their forthcoming split Summon The End, which sees them share the stage with Quebec City biker-sludge band The Death Wheelers.
Their two tracks were recorded by Byron Lemley of Numenorean, and are a part of an unofficial East-meets-West series curated by Canadian label Sunmask Records. The songs were inspired partially by guitarist and vocalist Sean Edwards’ time in the Alberta Oilfields.
“I was so unhappy. I was working on the rigs, not doing anything crazy, kinda just a grunt worker, but I lost my mind. It was pretty crazy seeing a lot of people out there that were really sad and depressed and lost in it all and it just seemed like a really interesting concept to me.”
Edwards recalls. “We ended up writing songs metaphorically talking about slaves and wastelands, and kings and towers. Imagining the [uprising] of lower class, and what imagery that created.”
Guitarist and vocalist Ian Lemke adds, “It’s not really a political statement,” but more of an exploration into an emotion. While heavier and more complex than the band’s previous album, Tales of the Riff Riders, it still holds onto Witchstone’s signature trudging, languid, pestilence that has made them a highly sought after staple. The band’s approach is similar to their chugging, gloomily hypnotic sound; slowly creeping, shrewdly developing. Witchstone takes their time between releases and typically only plays shows twice a year.
Says Edwards of the new split release: “This is our first collaborative writing in the line-up that we’ve had for four years. It’s a different sound, because we’re still in a transitional period of trying to get to where we wanna be [sonically].”
Lemke adds, “The split is unlike anything we’ve done before and probably unlike anything we will do. This is kinda a snapshot in time of us figuring ourselves out but the songs sounded pretty cool.”
He adds, “As a band we’ve never really nailed down our vocal style at all. We’ve never had one singer. There [are] so many different vocal styles on these two songs, with just us trying a bunch of different things out. We all sing, and it’s a little heavier and less droning. When you play slow, it can be seen as boring, but with these songs we really tried to make it layered and detailed and keep people interested.”
With the intro to “The Sludgelands” this can be heard, as its heavily turbulent layers crash forth and crawl back to simmer lightly beneath petulant goblin cry vocals. Fading layers highlight a moody, grim atmosphere and then tumultuously crash forward again to create a riff-ripping burning forest of sound, which withers and rambles for 10 minutes. With second track “Altar Riot,” the band marches into sun scorched desert lands, with haunted echoes and almost a bluesy feel that rounds out the overall sound of the album and paves the way for the band’s forthcoming full length, which they plan to put out this fall.
Witchstone is thrilled to release their split LP with The Death Wheelers on Sunmask Records May 27th. Catch them on tour through Western Canada in May and June, including their hometown release show June 3rd at Broken City with The Weir and Chieftain.AB, Alberta, Broken City, Witchstone