It’s not been a very bright time for a lot of people right now. With so many in quarantine away from people and living in a psychological darkness, demons have surfaced, and long-running issues that have slipped under the waters have reared their heads. That darkness can be impossible to navigate, and other issues can become amplified without some sort of release.
I got to thinking more about that when taking on “Vernal,” the debut full-length offering from Philly’s Witching. Anger, abuse, and grief are themes that are woven into these eight songs, and the ability to process these emotions and diffuse some pressure are just as vital to what’s going on. The band—vocalist Jacqui Powell, guitarists Nate Zagrimanis and Lev Ziskind, bassist Tatiana Buonassisi, drummer Miles Ziskind—delivers that message in a grimy, devastating manner on this record, something that’s disarming when you first dive into the music. It hits you like a wall of lava, and their performance swallows you whole, taking you on a dangerous journey through the darkest regions of your mind, making you confront how you’re going to deal with all of this. It’s a teeth grinder.
“Witness” starts the album and rips open with Powell’s growls clashing as she absolutely owns the room. The playing races and punches while guitars wash in and out as she belts out commands. The final minutes are utterly shredded apart, ending in burnt ash. “Roses” is a slow melter at the front as Powell’s vocals boom, and the playing grinds your midsection. That’s until the song starts to destroy as the guitar work buzzes like a swarm of hornets, and the vocals power a charge that turns up the heat to uninhabitable levels. “Lividity” starts with acoustic gasps and Powell’s clean singing that feels solemn and heated. Then the track jolts as Powell switches to harsh wails, and then things come unglued. Guitars rush, the pace floods, and the vocals lay waste one final time before the song burns out. “This Is What You Deserve” opens with basslines rumbling and the playing having a punk edge while Powell digs down and delivers some deeper singing. Grime and speed become partners and assault you, and then melodies swirl and make the room spin, and the intensity cuts through to the end.
“The Pack” punches open right away, with Powell’s voice simmering and the guitars daring you to challenge them. The track is dark with violence lurking beneath the waves before outright savagery is achieved. Powell switches off from shrieks to wails as the guitars bubble up and boil away. “False Martyr” has a psychedelic edge with the sultry vocals crawling through the muck and the playing beginning to burn. Growling then helps deliver slaughter as the song begins to swagger, and the playing gives off anxious energy. Doomy punishment then follows as the track blasts away and fades into hell. The title track trickles open, and before you know it, everything has burst to life. Riffs smear, the shrieks snarl, and suddenly we’re racing at uncomfortable speeds. The guitar work heats up and drives a dagger through you, while the vocals scrape for blood, and the track comes to a violent end. Closer “Eschaton” delivers a black metal-style edge as Powell sings over the fury, and the pace is destructive. Group calls add bruising while the riffs just slay. Powell mixes shrieks and gruff yells, while the pace mauls you into final submission.
Witching’s first record “Vernal” quakes you at your core both musically and philosophically, and this album should find favor among those who like their doom on the more mentally smothering scale. Powell is an unreal force as a vocalist, and the rest of the band is a black wave that poisons the waters and lays waste to your physical well-being. This is a really promising debut from a band that’s been through the grind and turned into a stronger, more channeled beast.
For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/witchingband
To buy the album, go here: https://witching.bandcamp.com/album/vernal