Following the departure of keyboardist Jonathan Draper, All Them Witches have slimmed down into a trio for their sixth studio album. Thankfully, the band have lost none of their power. Nothing as the Ideal is another satisfying collection of alternative rock jams that rummages around in the deep and dark depths of blues, stoner rock, and neo-psychedelia. The mixture may become too eclectic for its own good sometimes, but the record remains a hard-hitting odyssey that rarely fails to entertain.
Nothing as the Ideal is overly ambitious, perhaps to a fault. I’m not sure it knows what it wants to be. The band have their musical fingers in too many pies, with the grand aim of creating their most immersive record yet. Crunchy riffs, soaring solos, and ferocious drum passages share the same space as steady soundscapes. When it works, Nothing as the Ideal plays out like an epic film soundtrack. When it doesn’t, it feels slightly cumbersome.
“Saturnine & Iron Jaw” sets the mood by immediately using hypnotic sound effects, before evolving into a Black Sabbath style metal jam. There’s a distinct lack of subtlety, but it’s a powerful opener nonetheless. “See You Next Fall” is almost 10 minutes’ worth of chugging rock, with psychedelic guitar solo’s that would make even Gong proud. Closing track “Rats in Ruin” goes all-out post-rock in an attempt to capture a momentous and memorable conclusion, but I’m not sure the band quite pull it off. It’s certainly no F# A# ∞.
I maintain that the band are at their best when getting down and dirty to a killer groove. “Enemy of my Enemy” is a perfect example: a hard-rock gem with various nods to the likes of Kyuss and Led Zeppelin. “Lights Out” may be a bit too cock rock for my liking, but there’s no questioning the sense of adrenaline it provides. The closest ATW get to achieving a distinct and gratifying atmospheric interlude is “Everest”, a beautiful moment led purely by a lone electric guitar. Its solitude is almost spiritual.
Whilst not every experiment works out, Nothing as the Ideal remains a compelling and often exhilarating listen. It strives for the spectacular, which is impressive in itself. I’m just not convinced the band have the prowess to pull off those truly epic moments. This is ATW’s heaviest album, but perhaps also their messiest. At the very least, there’s something for everyone, and I doubt any long-time fan will leave disappointed.7 10
Favourite tracks // Enemy of My Enemy
Saturnine & Iron Jaw
This is the second time in as many weeks I’ve been a hair’s breadth from loving a record but ultimately held back. Nothing as the Ideal has a lot going for it. The record is a sumptuously produced blend of folk, rock, post-rock, and psychedelia, all with a smokey stoner sheen. When it gets rolling the grooves are irresistible. You can inject “See You Next Fall” straight into my veins thank you kindly.
The three-piece Tennessee outfit weave together an impressive range of genres. When at one point Charles Michael Parks Jr. sings of a ‘tapestry of noise’ he may as well be talking about the album. (Fantastic voice by the way, like a bassier Josh Homme.) The sound is grand, but it’s elegant too. Nothing as the Ideal is mystic rivers and desert plains with a bit of muscle — what folk tunes might sound like after hitting the gym, growing a goatee, and finding a good dealer. It’s all very assured.
In fact, it’s all so assured that by the end one starts to feel the album is rather plodding along. The power chord offerings of “41” wear thin, and “Rats in Ruin” doesn’t quite earn its 9-minute length. I have a well-documented soft spot for post-rock but Mogwai it is not. Hardly a disastrous end, but were the closing tracks a little tighter this might have been my favourite album of the year.7 10
Favourite tracks // See You Next Fall
The Children of Coyote Women
Saturnine & Iron Jaw
All Them Witches’ latest offering, Nothing as the Ideal, is as satisfying as it is surprising at times, and is a delightful addition to their already accomplished back catalogue.
All Them Witches are an outfit with huge ambition. Over the past few records, they have evolved and experimented whilst keeping a very much All Them Witches sound. Nothing as the Ideal is no different. Sleeping Through the War delved into a more pop/prog orientated sound. ATW ventured into the fissures of post-punk. In Nothing as the Ideal, All Them Witches give us a taste of metal. This is best seen in crashing tracks like “Lights Out” and “Enemy of My Enemy”, where the heavy, speeding guitars and strong drums are relentless.
Despite this new venture, All Them Witches remain seated in their own neo-psychedelic universe. You know who is playing over the speakers. This is done immensely well with the almost liquid baritone sound of Charles Michael Parks Jr.’s vocals. The lyrics can conjure images of southern swamps and sweated moonshine. This is best heard in the 9:5-long track, “See You Next Fall” — probably the most All Them Witches track on this record.
What is most delightful about this new record, however, are the respites and slower tracks among the speedy crunch of the more metal-influenced songs. “Everest” is a hauntingly beautiful single guitar instrumental that offers a reminder to the listener of where they are. Similarly, “The Children of Coyote Woman” is an excellent folksy call back to an earlier track, “The Death of Coyote Woman”, which appeared on Lightning at the Door.
All Them Witches are, in my opinion, one of the best blues-rock, neo-psychadelic (whatever you choose to call them) bands currently making music. Nothing as the Ideal is no departure. There is a huge amount to listen to here. I will certainly be revisiting more than I care to count.8 10
Favourite tracks // Saturnine & Iron Jaw
Enemy of My Enemy
The Children of Coyote Women