As suggested by the evocatively occult title, High Priestess’s Casting the Circle doubles down on the atmospheric makeup of their 2018 self-titled debut. The trio exercises a similarly meditative take on heavy psych, but it’s presented with a far more ritualistic slant. The compositions are more methodical with a greater emphasis on drawn-out melodies, slow-burn buildups, and song lengths stretching as far as seventeen minutes on the climactic “Invocation.” These factors can make for a daunting listen, but the band knows how to make it work.
Every song feels like a ceremony that feeds into the greater whole while drawing from a distinct energy, purpose, and musical identity. The title track sets the mood appropriately, invoking the four elements with tribal percussion setting up a swelling yet breezy delivery. From there, “Erebus” and “Hourglass” put in more straightforward doom lurches with the latter track being especially packed with stoner fuzz. I also love the contrast offered by “Invocation” and “Ave Satanas,” the former exploring the album’s fullest dynamics in a haunting sprawl and the latter serving as an a cappella comedown.
Through it all, the musicianship stays largely in line with the setup seen on the debut. The vocal approach is as multi-faceted as ever; the growls may be absent, but the various trade-offs and layers result in lines and melodies that are alluring without being catchy in the traditional sense. The instrumentation, in turn, reflects a loose yet elaborate approach as fuzzy bass provides much of the grit that the guitars and keyboards craft the exotic chord progressions and atmospheric swells. Part of me finds the Eastern motifs amusing when the lyrics seem more Satanic/pagan-minded, but I’m an absolute sucker for this style either way.
High Priestess already had a unique thing going with their 2018 debut, and that feeling only intensifies with Casting the Circle. The trio already demonstrated the playing and songwriting chops to sell their Om meets Coven heavy psych, and applying them to a more conceptual vision lets those elements shine even more. It may be best suited for mood listening, and a couple of songs can be intense undertakings, but this material demands to be digested as a whole. Those who enter this circle will be rewarded accordingly.