e might as well get this out of the way: Witch includes alt-rock god J Mascis on drums, and although they're significantly less famous, singer Kyle Thomas and guitarist Asa Irons who both play in avant-folk group Feathers (and on Devendra Banheart's “Heard Somebody Say”). In fact, Mascis' buddy Dave Sweetapple, who provides bass, is the only member of Witch who isn't more well known for work elsewhere. And all of that, although it's likely to attract the lion's share of the attention directed at this band, doesn't matter.
It doesn't matter because Witch only sounds like Dinosaur Jr in the sense of having loud, impeccably distorted guitars, and it's awfully hard to distinguish Mascis' work here from any other competent but not amazing metal drummer. It doesn't matter because they bear even less resemblance to Feathers, with the possible exception of the dreamily acoustic opening of “Isadora,” before those same crushing electrics from the other six songs come storming in to end the album. And it especially doesn't matter because Witch's debut is good enough that the band could be composed entirely of ex-Spice Girls and this would still be one of the finest heavy/doom metal albums likely to be released in 2006.
Like all bands of its stripe, they owe an enormous debt to prime Black Sabbath. Thomas' voice isn't as unique as Ozzy's, but by the same token he's not as annoying either. Sabbath's emphasis on Herculean riffs certainly informs the core of Witch's music, but most of the rest of the sound is filled in by influences more from heavy rock than from the increasingly technical and rarefied straits of metal. Saint Vitus and Sleep, yes, but also everyone from Blue Cheer (the chugging “Soul of Fire”) to Comets on Fire (the amazingly molten “Changing”). The lyrics, written by Thomas, are uniformly concerned with sorcery and the supernatural, but anyone who seriously thinks that's a drawback really needs to hear the grinding churn of the guitars on the opening “Seer,” or the end of the explosive “Hand of Glory.”
Witch manage to do a lot more in forty minutes with little more than a bunch of badass riffs and a decent rhythm section than most metal bands these days can do with seventy minutes. Witch is short and sweet and driving enough to inspire some serious grade headbanging; about the biggest worry surrounding this album is the fear that Mascis and Feathers might leave this as a one-off side project. Avant folk's gain would be doom metal's loss: As good as some of the artsier acts in this genre are, Witch is that rare band that focuses on just providing some incredibly heavy rock and roll in such a compelling fashion that they temporarily render all other considerations moot.