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Album Review: Witchhelm – All Hail…and Death

If he can maintain his prolific rate of production and overall quality of his various projects, Sean Deth just might end up being Ohio’s answer to Mike Patton.

Okay, that might be a bit of hyperbole, but regular readers of this site know that we’re pretty big fans of all things Sean Deth here at the vault, and have been since Witchhelm was added to the lineup of last year’s Doomed & Stoned Fest. There’s also no question that Deth is one of the hardest working men in underground metal, having already released excellent records with his black metal trio Burial Oath and solo act Ulven, which come on the heels of 2016 full-lengths from his stoner/doom outfit Witchhelm and funeral doom project Lucian the Wolfbearer.

He’s back again with another release from Witchhelm entitled All Hail…and Death, and it seems him moving into some new musical territory. Whereas last year’s Dead Nights and the Moon Fear melded some of the catchier elements of stoner metal with the more abrasive aspects of doom, All Hail… is a straight-up dark folk record. With the exception of closing track “Death Worship,” it’s basically an all-acoustic record dominated by fingerpicked guitar. Deth’s innate knack for melody has always been apparent in whatever project he’s recording with at the time, but it really comes to the fore on All Hail…thanks to the record’s stripped-down format.

If you can imagine a death-obsessed midpoint between Nirvana’s “Something in the Way” and the late, great Texas troubadour Townes Van Zandt, then you’ve got a pretty good idea of what the bulk of this record sounds like. It’s a lovely record, which isn’t something I thought I’d ever say about one of Deth’s releases, but it’s also a deeply sad record. His vocals in particular sound entirely too weary for someone of his still relatively young age, and the music feels equally downcast.

There’s not a weak track on the record, but the highlight for me is the album’s centerpiece – the nearly 13 minute “Devour the Sun.” A bit closer to slowcore than folk, the track builds slowly from a sparse but heavily effects-laden single guitar line to eventually coalesce into something akin to early 90’s sad bastard indie rock icons Codeine. Of the purely acoustic tracks, both “Black Tongue” and “Night Graves” feature wonderfully intricate guitar parts that are almost (but not quite) beautiful enough to counteract the doleful lyrics, giving the songs a dreamy, languid feel.

In the end, All Hail…and Death is an exquisite record that might rank as the best thing Deth has ever done. If he wanted to keep releasing Witchhelm records in this style, or start a new dark folk project entirely, I certainly wouldn’t complain.

All Hail…and Death will be available on CD and cassette on August 25 via Graven Earth Records. It is also currently available digitally from Witchhelm’s Bandcamp page.

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