Just under three years ago Stoke on Trent’s Space Witch released their Self-Titled debut LP consisting of two thirty-plus minute tracks of monolithic space doom. Now it’s 2017 and Space Witch are back with a more streamlined line-up (having parted ways with guitarist Lee Bullock) and a more nuanced sound. Where before the spacier, proggier sounds of Peter Callaghan‘s electronics were just one more layer in the wall of sonic magic cast by the ‘Witch, on Arcanum they feel much more integral (Callaghan also now providing vocals on two of the album’s four tracks). While in perfect observance with their past output, Arcanum undoubtedly takes Space Witch beyond their previous territory, and on into a new dimension.
Cosmonoid swells into being; a slow-mo, spaced-out riff jammed gradually heavier and heavier until Daz Rowlands‘ Matamp thunders into life. Slow and steady, layered synth and lead parts lift the whole thing into an epic prog journey across the cosmos. About nine and a half minutes in we get a change of pace – Rowlands’ galloping guitar part picked up and ran away with by Dan Mansfield (drums) and Tomas Cairn (bass) – but the keyboard parts maintain the pace and atmosphere throughout, even as the track digs ever deeper and heavier. By the time we get to a sampled choir chanting along with the staggering final big riff, the hour has truly come for the acolytes of the mighty Space Witch to bow down and worship before their cosmic magick altar.
Astro Genocide opens with a fat stoner riff, augmented by doomy space synth sounds. This track only gets heavier. Here we get our first taste of Callaghan‘s vocals, sounding like a cross between David Terry of Bong and Jon Davis of Conan. There’s a definite patchouli-whiff of Hawkwind with the more vehement, poetry-like delivery accompanying the proggier riff which follows (look, they’re called Space Witch and I’m not complaining) but, true to form, this transmogrifies into a blast-beat battered outro.
Dissonant jazz orchestra ambience gives way to the almighty Hex Solaris – a stupefyingly heavy space sermon which calms to a sneaky sci-fi jam, only to once again get progressively bigger, louder, and harder. “Magnificent and wondrous Sun, I will be the chosen one!”
Battle Hag is a track that first appeared on Space Witch’s 2008 demo, which it’s worth noting that only Daz Rowlands of the current line-up actually appeared on. Back then it sounded something like a trippy Electric Wizard B-side (in a good way) but now, with an added four minutes or so to its running time, it’s never sounded bigger, heavier, or more intense. Yet again, the synth parts stitch the whole thing together; maintaining the feel and theme of the record throughout.
Arcanum is a record with a lot of sonic space in every sense. Where previously Space Witch were often all about layer upon layer of sound fashioned into something solid, now they seem much more confident to leave gaps in the whole; to use a bit more subtlety and artifice to draw the listener in. The band’s ever-present prog elements are definitely more pronounced and focused on Arcanum, but there also seems to be more of a post-metal influence to me. Increased dynamics, a clearer, more focussed direction; all this is the icing on the cake really. Space Witch were already fantastic, now they’re just even more fantastic. Space is trippy. Witch is heavy. All hail the cosmic doom of the Space Witch!
Scribed by: John Reppion