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Ballad of the Sludgelands: Riff riders Witchstone weather the winter storms

Monday 20th, February 2017 / 11:05
By Christine Leonard

Calgary band Witchstone drop Mortal Fear of Infinity on March 4.
Photo: Courtesy of the band

CALGARY — Defrosting the frozen heart of winter with a searing spike of psychedelic doom metal, Calgary’s Witchstone has been delivering their febrile mutations since first appearing on the prairie moors in 2011. Stubborn enough to weather the upheaval of ongoing personnel changes, founding members guitarist/vocalist Sean Edwards and bassist/vocalist Andrew Sanderson fleshed out the banshee band’s thinning ranks with the complimentary talents of inventive drummer Marcello Castronuovo and emotive guitar ace Ian Lemke (Blackrat).

“We used to be sort of droney and stonery, where we’d all be playing the same riff. And now it’s a lot more inspired by ‘70s proto-metal like Iron claw, Coven, Black Widow and newer bands who are doing stuff like that, such as Blood Ceremony,” says lead guitarist Lemke of Witchstone’s unfolding aesthetic.

The intense quartet self-released a brooding bedroom demo EP recorded in February of 2012, and two years later surpassed that introduction with a Sabbathy four-song cassette, Tales of the Riff Riders. In May of 2016, the band tag-teamed it with Quebec despots The Death Wheelers to release a split album titled Summon The End (Sunmask Records). Witchstone’s contributions, the turbid “The Sludgelands” and the ten-minute mark toppling “Altar Riot,” propelled the quartet towards the realization of Witchstone’s highly-anticipated forthcoming LP, Mortal Fear of Infinity.

“Around [the] same time we were recording our split, we recorded our new material with Pat Palardy of Public Lunch Studios, so the two sessions overlapped a little bit,” reports Lemke.

“It was the most professional studio environment I’ve ever recorded in. We had a lot of different ideas and experimented a lot, it was nice having someone who was really open minded and honest when he thought something wasn’t working out.”

According to the dual guitarists, the material that comprises Mortal Fear of Infinity sees the band seeking out untrodden pathways and rising to new heights of self-actualization.

“On this album, we intentionally went for a different kind of heavy. We didn’t go with amps to 11 and high distortion. We actually went a lot cleaner than we ever have before,” Lemke observes.

“I think this is the first album where we’ve gotten through our voice as a band and it feels like this is what we’re supposed to sound like. Sean and I have really gelled together; I think we’ve finally figured out our sound.”

Thrusting their point across with a subtle blade, Edward and Lemke divided songwriting duties down the middle.

“It’s been great writing with Ian in this new way, because he’s such a talented lead player. The subject matter is pretty dark and reflects both death and love. It’s a serious album and not so fantasy or fiction based,” says Edwards, who also explored and refined his vocal techniques.

“We’re trying to establish a vocal sound, so that we’re closer to singing than just brutal screaming.”

“This album especially is way more full of occult metaphors for real-life hardship, so we thought we’d go with a witchy vibe,” agrees Lemke.

“I started to do backing harmonies, which is the first time I’ve ever sung on an album.”

A breakthrough album in many respects, the production experiments Witchstone conducts on Mortal Fear of Infinity necessitated the addition of a fifth dimension to an already hypnotic live set; a quest that ended at the hands of keyboard enchantress Jolene Toner.

“On the split, and this album, we are just a four-piece, but we all agreed that there should be some keyboards, treats, layers and little tidbits on the new album for extra effect,” clarifies Lemke.

“We approached Jolene [because] she’s an old friend of ours. She’s a Jack-of-all-trades-type character, a versatile musician, and very easy to get along with… We’re excited to have a future recording with her on it.”

See Witchstone at their album release party on Saturday, March 4th at the Palomino Smokehouse and Bar with Numenorean and Monolith A.B.

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