Acid Witch – Rot Among Us (Hells Headbangers Records)

Friday, 28th October 2022
Rating: 9 / 10

With the days getting shorter, the leaves starting to turn and a chill in the air as the temps begin to drop, ushering in fall and the spooky season, you should always be on the lookout for a new Halloween treat from the Acid Witch.

Going back to the band’s Witchtanic Hellucinations full-length debut in 2008, nearly all of its releases, especially studio albums, have been released in October, and some even on Halloween. This year the band decided to kick off the month with the release (digitally) of its fourth studio album Rot Among Us on Oct. 1, which will be available on tape and CD in time for Halloween.

It’s been five years since the release of the band’s last studio album, Evil Sound Screamers in 2017, but the Witch has been busy in the interim, releasing singles and split EPs to keep things fresh. In 2020, we got the excellent The Halloween That Wasn’t cassette tape, and last year saw the release of Spooky II, a 4-song EP split between the Witch and fellow Hells Headbangers Records cohorts Vaultwraith, with two songs from each band.

Acid Witch consists of Slasher Dave on lead vocals, guitars, synths, organ and bells, Shagrat on bass and vocals, and Phil Warren handling drums and all percussion. The band is DIY to the core, with Dave also handling production on most of the band’s albums and Shagrat designing the cover art and writing the majority of the lyrics. This time around, the artwork features the witch in a swamp in the forest, with a slew of skeletons lying at her feet, as a red eye peers down from the sky, which resembles the eye of the tar man from “Return of the Living Dead.”

You would be hard-pressed to think of another band more synonymous with Halloween than Acid Witch. The band is often labeled Halloween metal because it doesn’t really fit comfortably into any one genre or style, which is by design. If you’re new to Acid Witch, you’ll find everything from death metal, doom metal, psychedelic rock, stoner, NWOBHM, and even a bit of horror synth (think John Carpenter).

In addition to brewing up a unique sound, Acid Witch never makes the same album twice. Where Witchtanic was more raw and dirty sounding, featuring former vocalist Lasse Pyykko of Hooded Menace and influenced by Razorback Recordings deathgrind artists such as Blood Freak and Frightmare, the follow-up, Stoned, featured a heavier NWOBHM influence, especially in the riffs, and saw Slasher Dave take over vocals, with songs that were more rock-oriented with plenty of heft and groove. That rock-oriented direction continued on Evil Sound Screamers, with live staples such as “Mr. Beistle,” “Mutilation Mansion” and “Hard Rock Halloween.” Whereas synths and the organ played more of a background role on Witchtanic and Stoned, they were much more front and center on Evil Sound Screamers, giving the album an almost cartoon-like atmosphere.

On Rot Among Us, the synths are still present, but they’ve been dialed back, as has the cartoon-like atmosphere and the skits and interludes that were scattered throughout Evil Sound Screamers. Rot is a healthy combination of the heaviness and groove of Stoned and the catchy songs and rock n’ roll atmosphere of Evil Sound Screamers.

“Gather Each Witch” kicks the album off with a catchy chant summoning all witches, warlocks and wizards to “awaken, arise, appear,” punctuated by a haunting chime melody, crunchy riffs and a solo reminiscent of the guitar work found on Slasher Dave’s solo album The Jack-O-Lantern Murders, something short and tasteful that serves the song well.

Following “Gather Each Witch” is the title track, a heavy, mid-paced stomper of a song that features Dave and Shagrat trading off vocals as they depict a doomed encounter between a witch and another party in which the witch foretells of an apocalyptic future on Earth. “The Sleeper” quickly follows, upping the pace with another simple yet catchy riff accompanied by Phil Warren’s steady drumming and rhythmic cymbal crashes.

“Psychedeathic Swampnosis” is an early favorite and may be one of the catchiest songs on the album, with its meandering yet mesmerizing melodies and measured riffs, as Dave sings about a wizard wandering through the swamp in search of the bog witch and her magic potions, for which he’s willing to trade his mushrooms, weed and LSD. The song calls to mind Black Sabbath’s “The Wizard,” but instead of Ozzy’s harmonica, Dave throws in some flute trills, giving it a bit of a Jethro Tull flavor.

It may appear on the outside that Acid Witch is all about getting stoned and celebrating all things Halloween, but if you take a deeper look and pay attention to the lyrics, you’ll find truly terrifying yet cautionary tales of arson, murder and mayhem, beginning with “Devil’s Night Doom,” which appears halfway through the album and tells the story of the arson sprees that used to take place on the eve of Halloween all throughout the band’s hometown of Detroit.

The theme of the album is rotting, death and decay, and there’s more than one song on here with a tragic tale behind it. I won’t go in to each one, as it’s more fun to discover on your own, but I’ll highlight “5508 Martin St.” since the band released a lyric music video for it. The song tells of a haunted house that still exists in Detroit and a ghost witch known as the Demon of Detroit and the many strange happenings to those who have stayed for any length of time in the small room added onto the back of the house.

While it could be argued that the story behind “Evil Dad (Dad by Dawn)” is the most sinister on the album, this, along with “Tommyrotters” – which has a melody eerily similar to the “Unsolved Mysteries” theme – I found to be most similar to the songs on Evil Sound Screamers, in terms of being straight-ahead rock bangers filled with ear candy, slightly calling back to that cartoon-like, spooky atmosphere. The melodies here are brighter and, again, extremely catchy, whereas the riffs on earlier songs on the album are a bit uglier, slimier and heavier.

The riffs and the drumming on this album, which both sound massive thanks to Dave’s production, will pound you into submission, while the melodies and choruses will crawl inside your head and take up residence like a haunting specter, not intent on leaving anytime soon. The guitar work is not flashy or technical, but the riffs are heavy and memorable, and the solos are well-crafted and well-placed to fit the songs, rather than be used an excuse to show off. There’s also a ton of groove on this album, thanks to Shagrat’s more than prominent bass presence and Dave’s production, which lets it burst through and pound your ears.

Rot Among Us is by far Acid Witch’s most potent concoction to emerge from Cauldron Cave. Featuring elements from each previous album, while introducing new sounds to the beastly brew, it is the band’s darkest and most mature album to date, yet also its catchiest, as you will be singing along to these songs, humming the melodies and banging your head from the moment you hit Play. So doom on, tune off and drop out with the Witch!

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