April 23, 2020 Witchskull – A Driftwood Cross (Album Review)
Brooding Australian Doom Metal trio Witchskull is set to return on Friday, April 24th with A Driftwood Cross. Their overall third album, and second with Rise Above Records, the new effort comes after relentless touring from the band. Resulting in them reconvening for the recording sessions, how does it hold up to their previous releases?
Originally coming together back in 2014 with Tony McMahon on bass, Joel Green on drums, and Marcus De Pasquale on guitar/vocals, the triumvirate wasted little time reaching for its goal of a dark Blues sound. First they released The Vast Electric Dark independently in the autumn of 2015, after which the band was snagged by the aforementioned Rise Above Records, for whom they delivered Coven’s Will in 2018.
Which leads to A Driftwood Cross, an album of eight bold tracks that was recorded with Blood Duster’s Jason Fuller Blood Duster. The explosive journey begins with “Black Cathedrals,” wasting no time opening a vein and pouring heavy doses of Sludge.
From here the LP continues with steady, healthy doses of Black Sabbath and a similar ’70s occult themes, spread across crushing entries like “Dresden,” “Baphomet’s Child,” and “The Silent Place.” It should also be noted that De Pasquale has a knack for choosing when and where to add haunting empyrean vocals to instrumental breakdowns. This is particularly the case with the plodding cuts like “The Red Altar,” which all comes after opening with the warm fuzzy clang of a Stoner/Sludge bass line that slowly roils into a banshee chorus.
Moving right along, two tracks that stand out a bit are “This Silent Place” and “Nero Order.” The former continues the band’s well-worn habit of alternating calm, detached verses with loud, exploding choruses, while the latter takes a sudden but comfortable turn toward Post-Metal. This change is made most obvious by the up-front work of De Pasquale on alternating clean and grinding guitar, peppered with pained verses and screamed vocals. These influences are bookended by the Desert Rock feel of “March of Winter” and the closing title-track “A Driftwood Cross,” both of which take a familiar turn into Kyuss territory. In addition, “A Driftwood Cross” returns to the speed-ball demon sound of opener “Black Cathedrals” and reminds you that the band has as much hold over the loud, driving aspects of its sound as it does the slow, painful whispers sprinkled throughout. While the closer manages to bring the house down, as a whole, the album could feel a little brief, leaving most yearning for one or two more tracks.
Clocking just shy of forty minutes, A Driftwood Cross packs a number of tight turns and genre adjustments. This is all while still keeping its vibes within the low, bluesy goal the band set for itself upon forming a few years ago. De Pasquale in particular sounds just as confident warbling chthonic choruses as he does laying terse, rigid verses. That in mind, while his ethereal vocal detours never quite reach the highest of highs, they are flung far enough away from normal ground to add another dimension to the band’s sound. Now three albums in, Witchskull has firmly defined a sound that manages to offer solid footing without being restrictive. That is why Cryptic Rock gives A Driftwood Cross 3.5 out of 5 stars.