Whatever Witch You Are by Dead HeavensRelease date: June 16, 2017
Label: Dine Alone Records
Just as I was writing up this, admittedly, very tardy album review it was announced that Quicksand have reformed and have an album due for release. A new album from Walter Schreifels much loved post hardcore outfit is indeed a cause for joy, but you may have missed his most recent and possibly more surprising output. Shreifels is a mainstay nay even a legend of the rock underground, having been involved in Gorilla Biscuits, Youth of Today, Rival Schools and the aforementioned Quicksand. Moving between hardcore, post hardcore and alt rock, whatever the style his presence guarantees quality and that holds true for this album under the banner of Dead Heavens. What is less expected is that Whatever Which You Are is a stoner rock album, a genre Schreifels has never approached before, but him and his bandmates, namely guitarist Paul Kostabi (Youth Gone Mad, White Zombie, Psychotica), bassist Nathan Aguilar (of Cults), and drummer Drew Thomas (Youth of Today, Bold, Into Another) wholeheartedly immerse themselves in the sound. From noodling, plucked Geezer-ish basslines, fuzzy riffs, wah wah excess and low slung and lazy tales of torpor and druggy dilemmas, it’s all here, present and righteously correct.
After the brief synth reverie of intro track ‘Rainbow of the Ohm Chart’ first song proper ‘Basic Cable’ is a laidback smear of wah wah, languorous bed head vocals and that Sabbath-esque rhythm – heavy but with a hint of swing. Schreifels sings as if trapped under a particularly heavy duvet “I should go outside… opportunity’s blown for another day”. It’s safe to say Dead Heavens have this old stoner rock lark nailed.
So yes, it’s another entry into an already well stocked canon, but is there anything particularly to recommend it? Well, given the guys involved you would certainly hope so, but part of the reason this album has taken me so long to review is that it has taken considerably longer than expected to impress its charms upon me. I do have a lot of respect for Schreifels and so with the urging of other people: telling me that it’s a grower that you’ll suddenly realise you love, I stuck with it. And I’m happy to report that they were right, and that my patience has been rewarded. In fact, now that it’s all fallen into place I find it tricky to fathom what exactly was stopping me from appreciating its worth for so long?!
With his work in Rival Schools in particular Schreifels has shown he knows how to create memorable melodies and hooks and Whatever Which You Are is blessed with instant, catchy tunes, especially the upbeat ‘Away From The Speed’ and the cool garage pop poise of ‘Silver Sea’. Where Dead Heavens consistently have the upper hand over most of their peers is Schreifels easy, warm vocals, which I’ve always been fond of. With his slightly behind the beat style, imbued with tons of smiley charm and a soupcon of soul, Schreifels packs more charisma into these songs than a dozen generic Johnny-stoned-lately singers.
For me, another early signifier of this album’s potential greatness was ‘Adderall Highway’, a glam stomp with a real kinetic energy that you wish would just keep rocking for much longer than its brief running time.
However, it’s on the less immediate numbers where Whatever Which You Are eventually reveals its strength, particularly ‘Gold Tooth’, a sprawling psych epic that is nearly eight minutes long, but seems much longer, so many sonic shenanigans does it contain, with breakdowns, builds, trippy interludes and a noisy recurring riff to harness it all.
All in all, this is a triumph, Dead Heavens proving their chops and genre prowess in great style without it once ever descending into cliche. So go ahead and enjoy that new Quicksand album, but Dead Heavens are equally worthy of your time.