All Them Witches Reach Haunting New Heights on ‘Dying Surfer Meets His Maker’ (Album Review)

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It cannot be mere coincidence of fate that the latest opus from those Tennessee titans of doom/psych/jam/rock, All Them Witches, is being released the day before Halloween. No, nothing about Dying Surfer Meets His Maker has been left to chance, and I can only conclude that its release was considered carefully before a date was cemented. Halloween, as it is, with its seasonal devotion to witchcraft and hauntings, is not just the perfect time of year for the unleashing of this record upon the world, it’s the only time of year it makes sense. It’s a record of pure, intense horror that embraces the traditions of American music in order to defile them and cast them into their own likeness and design. As a result, All Them Witches have crafted a record that’s as stunning as it is horrifying, leading its listeners down a path to Hell as a sort of latter day Virgil guiding Dante through the inferno. Full of mystery and intrigue, All Them Witches have blown the invisible boundaries of genre off the map, leaving only a terrifying journey through darkness you have no choice but to embark upon.

The band openly channels the spirit of gothic Americana, its sludgy tempos symbolic of darkened swamps hiding in darkened forests, waiting, eternally and patient, to catch the unwary in its grips. Even the album’s lighter moments belie a truth unspoken—there’s something dark in them woods, lurking, watching. Like the bravest of kids who grow up in these parts, Dying Surfer Meets His Maker opts not to stay in the meadows and clearings, where their mama told them it was safe to play. No, the record journeys deeper and deeper into the thicket and quagmire, anxious to discover the secrets hidden where playtime has been forbidden. There, beneath gnarled and broken branches that beset paths untraveled, it discovers greatness.

It’s the spirit of discovery that propels the record. Like the brave explorer traversing new terrains, its heart pounds alternately with fear and excitement. Fear at the darkness that stares out from somewhere just beyond the line of sight; excitement at the possibility of finding something new, both within and without yourself. Because like all great stories of exploration, the real discovery is of the self. In that way, All Them Witches have crafted the sonic equivalent of Heart of Darkness—the hidden nature of the paths explored lead us directly to a vision of ourselves we’d rather leave unacknowledged. The monster that watches us is watching from our own eyes.

An undeniable sense of foreboding permeates Dying Surfer Meets His Maker, its notes and layers of sound effectively building a haunting wood that eschews the light, with each instrument adding to the miasma to create a sonic journey that defies true classification while daring you to challenge its oppression. “Call Me Star,” the album’s opener, prologues this journey into darkness perfectly, its first notes lull you in, softly beckoning you with a siren’s call, before leaving you helpless and alone as the record transitions seamlessly into the instrumental “El Centro.”

Here, the listener is given the initial glimpse of what awaits them deeper in the woods. Drawing from the same well of psychic darkness that moves the best that blues, rock, psych, and Americana have to offer, Dying Surfer Meets His Maker offers its first indication of its insidious plot to doom us all. It groans and moans, it howls and wails, with the intensity and darkness of a black wood at witching hour. Rather than repel, however, it invites. The cowardly need not apply though—the trails revealed along this eight and a half minute jam exist solely for the bravest and boldest of music fans. Challenging in both form and technique, its secrets lay dormant across multiple listens, revealing themselves only upon close and tedious examination.

Dying Surfer Meets His Maker is an invocation of the internal demons that threaten the fabric of your personal reality, calling them forth from their hidden depths so that they might be faced head on. All Them Witches have channeled the unseen forces of nature into a spell of powerful intent, its incantations having hidden effects of mind-altering, world shattering consequence that refuse easy analysis. Its complexity belies the simplicity of their inspirations, and vice versa. As soon as you’ve got them, and this record, figured out, they defy you, laughing maniacally from the darkness as you again attempt to find your footing.

That’s always been the genius of All Them Witches, however. They’re a band who haven’t the time for—or the interest in—your need for classification and understanding. They’re too busy exploring the depths of their psyches and their talent to concern themselves with those trivial pursuits. They stand alone, the wizards on high peaks, weaving their captivating magic for any who deign to witness. For your sake, I hope you take a look. For while their incantations might elicit fright and dread, the end result is growth of both the self and the mind, as is the goal of any good spell.

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