Misery is a dread that pulses like a second heart. Excruciating, it is the slow twisting of a screw. In order to craft unremittingly heavy music, Black Sabbath tapped into this distress. On their 1970 self-titled debut, they elongated notes, distorting bluesy riffs into something strange and evil. Ozzy, fucked up on vodka and cocaine, wails like an animal falling into a pit, “Oh no, no, please god help me.” Desperate, dire and painful, this is the birth of metal.
On A Mortal Fear of Infinity, Calgary’s Witchstone embraces the traditions laid before them by those like Black Sabbath. Lingering notes and tortured vocals build an atmosphere both thick and daunting. The album cover, a moon swallowed by a black hole, serves as a warning: no light shall escape here.
Avoiding the urge to deafen the listener, all four tracks build with crafted grace — few things appear out of place. On “Estuaries,” for instance, a lone distorted guitar gives way to the thudding shudder of a full band. The lead guitar twangs with a submerged murkiness. Syrupy and sludge like, this is the sound of a spiraling descent. As the vocalist releases a fading yelp, an organ adds to the whirling confusion. This instrumentation is a touch of pure psychedelia. Reminiscent of Electric Wizard, it propels the song into an assemblage of solos and ominous samples. Though lengthy, “Estuaries” is far from monotonous.
At other moments, however, Witchstone find themselves listless. Without deviation, “Chronoshift” flails about. Altering between spacey reverb and heavy riffs, the song’s eight-minute length does not feel justified. Lacking are the mounting crescendos of superior tracks — “Maniac of the Dane Hills,” for example, finds room for a bass solo and muted chants before the return of a punishing swell of distortion. Similarly, a somber set of sharp sounding notes drive “The Voidmouth” forward. Where these songs build pressure and ambience through sonic diversity, “Chronoshift” seems lodged in a rut.
Yet, this misstep fails to derail the momentum of A Mortal Fear of Infinity. A tight conceptual unit, this album operates under the assumption that heaviness is based on more than just aggression and sheer volume. Like Sabbath before them, Witchstone understands that human dread is the weightiest substance on earth.