Written by: The Administrator
This particular scribe tends to wallow in the oppressive confines of tar-thick riffage, but the occasional jaunt through more spacious environs certainly has its perks. Enter The Holy Water EP, the swiftly forthcoming release (June 15th) from the ever-talented genre-spanning Witnesses. At times an expression of sparse ambiance, at others a more traditional doom project, Greg Schwan and friends consistently deliver music with an expansive scope and a cinematic flair. While the deliberate separation remains, this latest three-track manages to combine multiple aspects of the bifurcated Witnesses formula into a single entity. This is doom at its most open, its most atmospheric, and arguably its most emotive.
This EP is built around two substantial tracks and a short acoustic closer. "Borgo Pass," the opener and single, demonstrates the new evolution exceedingly well, showcasing drama and a hint of danger without ever feeling particularly heavy-footed. While the central narrative directly concerns Bram Stoker's Lucy Westenra and Mina Harker, the gothic nature of the track sits more in its sense of intriguing atmosphere than in dim or gloomy sonic quality. For stretches, the guitar serves as the backdrop, leaning into distortion when weight is needed for impact, but never seeking to overpower. At other times, the guitar leaves the proceedings nearly entirely, reappearing here and there in pure acoustic form to lace a tempered melody into proceedings. The drums are often very minimal. And while "Borgo Pass" certainly has its quieter moments, “Cloistered in Purfleet” truly takes that aesthetic and runs with it. This track feels like a cool breeze across fresh sheets, and when the guitar does kick into higher gear, it does so with significant impact. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, and Greg knows how to build a track across its breadth in order to deliver a satisfyingly dynamic conclusion. The layers are subtle, and the overall impression this track leaves is that everything is far less complex than it actually is. That's a mark damn fine songwriting.
Track three, "The Ballad of Lucy and Mina," is a quiet acoustic comedown from the sheer emotive power of the preceding tracks. It is over quickly, and it serves as an excellent outro before depositing the listener on the far end of the listening experience. Another smart choice--some closure is needed, especially given how disappointed I always am when this EP comes to another inevitable end. The realization that this is only an 18 minute affair is sobering.
While I am of course not privy to the inner workings of the creative process at camp Witnesses, the spirit of collaboration feels strong with this release. In the past, vocalist Gabbi Coenen has contributed to Witnesses' ambient work, but this is her first outing on the more doom-centric side of the coin. No surprises here: it is a brilliant meeting of talent. The two work together with a wonderful sense of intentionality. In the moments where Gabbi's stellar vocals take center stage, the instrumentation seems to fold and bend around her voice, providing ample space. In this way, "Borgo Pass" and “Cloistered in Purfleet” feel incredibly fluid in nature, the focus shifting between elements with an impeccable grace and generosity. In the most stripped-bare moments of “Cloistered in Purfleet” in particular, I'm reminded of Windhand's more overtly ethereal tracks–"Sparrow" jumps immediately to mind. That beautiful forlorn quality, built on the back of spacious composition, is something special indeed. Witnesses’ music has always been pretty damn heart wrenching–the doomy The Collapse and the ambient IV, both released last year, consistently hit that somber tear-inducing tone without so much as breaking a sweat. That said, the juxtaposition of Gabbi’s stellar vocal work with the sweetly chilling instrumentation creates an atmosphere in a league of its own. I have cried listening to this EP. I hope you do too.
The collaboration was a very smart move, and while Witnesses is a project built on a marked avoidance of stagnation, I’d absolutely love to hear more music in this vein. While I do miss the presence of Anlaik’s clean vox, this particular iteration may very well be, in my opinion, the best the band has ever been. And I hope that’s saying something, considering how damn good everything else has proven.
There's a raging storm outside, my headphones are on, and there's a slumbering dog in my lap. The Holy Water EP is set on repeat, and I'm set to enjoy the remainder of the evening. And with that, I should probably just let the music do the rest of talking. Either The Holy Water EP sounds appealing, or you've already left. Rather than blabbering on, I'll leave you to enjoy "Borgo Pass," and hopefully to consider snagging the preorder for my favorite EP of the year. Needless to say: The Holy Water EP comes highly recommended.
Witnesses - The Holy Water EP will be released June 15th, 2022. Find it here!
We provide thoughtful reviews of music that wakes us from slumber. Written by a highfalutin peasantry.