Review: Saint Karloff / Devil’s Witches ‘Coven Of The Ultra-Riff’

Majestic Mountain Records presents Coven Of The Ultra-Riff, a split featuring Devil’s Witches from Scotland and Saint Karloff from Norway on gorgeous green and black marbled vinyl. Two songs from each band, one a new original, the other a reinterpreted cover of a song from the other band. A cool idea for existing fans and a great way for new listeners to get into what each band is about. But in this case, the covers also serve to draw attention to each band’s strengths and weaknesses, and maybe hearing the other band’s interpretation could provide a few ideas for both.

The Originals:

Saint Karloff kick things off with their Scandinavian space-Sabbath sound. At The Mountains Of Loudness starts strong with a psyched-out sprawl before firing into a stomp of martial drums and wigged out guitar. Two minutes later we’re into the doom with a mean ol’ riff and it’s all going so well until it switches up suddenly into forgettable repetition and flat detached-sounding vocals. I get the feeling that the words aren’t felt, and with the vocals up front I’m longing for those heavy riffs to return. Just when I’m starting to lose interest things take off to the cosmos and those same vocals that I found grating before become uplifting and otherworldly. I’d much prefer it if Saint Karloff dropped the stripped back repetition and just went up into the sky to jam and stayed there. The far-out structures, long builds and even longer releases, unfettered leads, and psychedelic space is where they really shine.

Scotland’s Devil’s Witches started out by combining a familiar psych doom sound with chintzy 60s domestic occultism. The recently-returned Vietnam Vet theme didn’t quite work for me, but the last few songs they released suggested that they’d dropped that. The song writing and vocal phrasing had really developed, and they were starting to sound more like an unconventional take on smoker’s doom with a 90s alt rock touch. Their original offering for this split, Love Is Doom, A Fistful of Napalm appears to be back to ‘Nam. It’s all solid doom riffs and abrupt shifts to languid psychedelics, but it sounds like a regression to me. It’s a little awkward and artificial, especially the lyrics and vocals, until the guitar leads come in with glorious melodies, textures and tones – surely their strong suit.

If you’ve never heard either band and you like psychedelic doom, this split is a solid introduction…

The Covers:

To my ears, the originals from both bands show room for improvement, but each shows the other how to make those improvements with their covers. Saint Karloff’s electrified take on Supervixen becomes a dark, stalking journey of Meyeresque foreboding, with the detached vocals sounding purposeful and chilling. The bass grinds and pops like it’s a hot night, and it’s so gloriously sleazy. The original sounds kind of disjointed and disingenuous to me, but this take is a one-way smoked-out bike ride into the sunset. Saint Karloff carry the tune with a confident flow that Devil’s Witches are sometimes lacking.

Devil’s Witches’ acoustic version of Saint Karloff’s Ghostsmoker is the highlight of the release. A delicate, breathy take on the tedious and dull original with much needed editing and a late-night melancholy vibe. I love the cleaner vocals, up-front with the natural accent cutting through. The song is a perfectly balanced trip, sung from the shadows and swaying from side to side before the gradual fade of soft guitar picking. Saint Karloff could do worse than focus on the lean structure and thick atmosphere that Devil’s Witches captures here.

If you’re already a fan of Saint Karloff or Devil’s Witches and you’ve picked up a copy of this already-sold-out split, chances are that the covers are going to make you a fan of both bands. If you’ve never heard either band and you like psychedelic doom, this split is a solid introduction. One thing’s for sure, both bands have it in them to refine what they’re doing and take their sound somewhere special. It’ll be interesting to see where they go and if they do. 

Label: Majestic Mountain Records
Saint Karloff : Facebook | Bandcamp | Twitter | Instagram
Devil’s Witches : Facebook | Bandcamp

Scribed by: Josuph Price