I was fairly concerned for Brimstone Coven’s future when they decided to continue as a trio after lead vocalist Big John Williams’s departure. The West Virginia band’s sweeping vocal harmonies made them a standout in the occult rock scene, and the other guys do have smooth voices, but could the rest of the snake retain the charisma without its head? Fortunately, a headless snake has become a hydra. Bassist Andrew D’Cagna proved to be a talented frontman in his own right with Ironflame’s 2017 debut and shares that spark with guitarist/co-vocalist Corey Roth on What Was and What Shall Be.
For the most part, the lineup shifts don’t deter Brimstone Coven’s mission statement. The vocal lines may be more basic than what had come before, but they remain rooted in a satanic clergy aesthetic and often feature the same layering. The lyrics retain the same occultist character without going too over the top, the songwriting remains focused on delivering seductive lines, and the melodic tone is forever accompanied by monolithic tempos and riff work.
However, this album is more stylistically balanced than its predecessors. 2016’s Black Magic remains an excellent album but also a constant tug o’ war between doom metal and classic rock. Aside from the heavier tones on “Lucifer Rising” and “The Road,” the rock influences clearly won out as songs like “Straight Through the World” and “The Chosen Ones” feature more light-hearted guitar work alongside dreamy vocals.
But even with this evolution, Brimstone Coven stands at something of a crossroad. The compositions are constructed well and very pleasant to listen to, but the ringing chords on songs like “The Red Witch” would be more effective with a heavier crunch behind them. It’s hard to tell if the tone needs to be heavier to match the writing or if the performances should be more elaborate to match the tone. But at the same time, the band may not even need to commit to a side. Whether you see the band as Zeppelin gone dark or lightened up Sabbath, there’s a certain appeal to their unique approach.
Behind the scenes changes may have tweaked the Brimstone Coven formula, but What Was and What Shall Be preserves the elements that made them first stand out in the doom rock scene. The band’s signature quirks ensure accessibility across many different demographics yet also keep them from committing to any niche but their own. Considering how good the band is at what they do, it’s not a bad place to be. My heart may still belong to Black Magic, but old and new fans alike are encouraged to check this one out.
“The Red Witch”
“The Chosen Ones”