Witch Doctor are a no-nonsense classic rock band based in St. Louis, Missouri. After forming in 2012, they spent the first couple of years writing a plethora of original material, which they showcased through a relentless gigging schedule. By 2015, the band decided it was time to cement their mark on the local music scene with their self-titled debut album, a lo-fi statement of hard rock that undoubtedly set the benchmark for their sonic identity. After repeating the cycle of writing and playing live, the band ambitiously re-entered the studio in 2018 in a clear attempt to out-do themselves on their sophomore effort. The resulting product, ‘Vulure’, sees the band step up their game and affirm a sound that’s undoubtedly ‘Witch Doctor’.
The opening bars of ‘Carnival’ instantly display one of the band’s strongest selling points; their attention to detail with regards to arranging. Guitarist Chris Walker’s tone on the opening riff is full-bodied and features a modest amount of distortion. This effectively contributes to a larger-than-life overall arrangement and allows the guitar to sit excellently in the mix. Drummer Ted Magos also keeps his part as simple as possible, single-handedly holding down the groove and keeping his fills to a minimum. This allows more room for the guitar and vocal tracks to breathe, displaying a fantastic adherence to ‘playing the song, not the instrument’. Genre-wise, the track is heavily-influenced by 1980’s classic rock acts such as Guns N’ Roses and Led Zeppelin, undoubtedly setting a high standard for the rest of the album.
After a blistering opening track, we’re given a little room to breathe on ‘Kiss the Vulture’. The track is based around a laid-back shuffle groove and a helplessly-catchy main guitar riff. Particular praise on this track goes to bassist Mark Janes for a wonderfully-written bass part. He holds down the root notes during the shuffled verses, providing solid infrastructure for the sparse guitar riff and vocal track to sit atop the mix. Janes then acts as a pivot for the band to transition from section to section, making use of melodically-sound bass fills to move from the more static verse to the melodically-abundant chorus and bridge, where he makes use of his part to invert the harmony and provide a counter to the vocal track. This again shows fantastic attention to detail and an excellent sense of musicianship.
‘Midnight Machine’ opens with a chugging chromatic bass riff before the full band enthusiastically join in on the arrangement. At this point, my attention turns to lead vocalist Pat Oldani’s vocal delivery, which is overall fantastic. His vocal technique is very accomplished, making effective use of vibrato and glissando to keep his parts interesting. His delivery is confident throughout and very suited to the classic rock genre, showing a good understanding of the band’s sonic identity. In tradition with the other members, Oldani’s lyrics effectively adhere to the ‘less is more’ philosophy, with this track featuring a stripped back chorus of ‘Gonna make her mine’. This effectively lines up with the band’s ethos and in turn makes the material catchy and effective. Another thing I noticed at this point is that the band have a tendency to drift out of time when transitioning from section to section. As this genre really thrives on rhythm and groove, I’d strongly recommend the band record to a click track if they’re not already doing so and consistently aim for the tightest takes possible.
‘Quicksand’ sees a return of the shuffle beat explored on ‘Kiss the Vulture’, with a fuzzy lead guitar riff sitting atop the mix. The latter half of the track sees a real change of pace, contrasting the initial hard rock section with a stripped-back acoustic section. The acoustic section features stacked vocal harmonies throughout, which I thought was fantastic. The backing vocals add a real sense of presence to the material and effectively fill out the arrangement. This is a ball I’d very much encourage the band to pick up and run with on future releases as it could really become a signature trait of theirs.
‘Snake Oil’ features some phemonenal guitar work from Walker; dualing guitar riffs open the track, before leading into a double-tracked main riff over the down-tempo groove. The track also closes out with a brilliantly-written set of dual guitar solos, which are melodically adventerous without becoming overbearing. At this point, my attention turns to how the guitar work across the album would best work in a live setting; the majority of the tracks feature rhythm guitar throughout, whilst dualing guitar riffs and layered solos are overdubbed. As I’d argue this to be a signature trait of the band, it might be worth them giving thought to how they’d best like to present this in a live setting. It wouldn’t hurt to make use of backing tracks, extra personnel or a selection of pedals to best replicate this aspect of their sound whilst performing live.
‘Scorched Earth’ is a blistering fast rock song featuring one of the tightest arrangements on the entire album. Lighthening speed palm muted verses open up into a chorus of sustained guitar chords, ambient lead work and thundering toms. My attention turns to the band’s sonic identity, which is incredibly well-focused and thoroughly-channeled. The band are unmistakebly clear of their no-nonsense classic rock genre and have a whole host of signature traits, which include melodically-sound riffs, shuffle beats and scorching lead work. This is something a lot of bands really struggle to achieve and a quality the band deserve to be proud of.
‘Texas’ is based around a fuzz-drenched riff reminiscent of the work of early Black Sabbath. At this point, my attention turns to the album’s production, which is overall very good. The band have clearly taken the time to source appropriate tones and microphone positions at the source, which has resulted in a high-quality set of recordings. As previously mentioned, the timing has a tendency to become unglued in places and it might be worth the band considering making use of a click track if they haven’t already done so. The mixing and mastering work is excellent; all levels and frequencies are well-balanced and all effects are tastefully applied, with a coherent feel to the production from track to track.
‘Misspent Youth’ has a more simple arrangement and features some fantastic use of wah-wah guitar work throughout; I was particularly impressed with Walker’s ability to make use of the effect on both the main riff and the lead work without the effect becoming overbearing. The simplicity of this track serves as the perfect precursor to the six minute finale ‘Erase the Black’. Picked acoustic work, eerie vocals and ambient lead guitar work introduce the track, before launching into an overdriven representation of the introductory material. The two sections are then fantastically interleaved for the remainder of the track and it ultimately left me wanting to hear more from the band. Overall, ‘Vulture’ is a confident sophomore effort from a band who are overtly aware of their fantastic sonic identity. The riff work across the project is excellent and I’m very much looking forward to seeing which direction they choose to take on their next project. Highly recommended for any fans of classic rock.