The hardest thing for any doom band to capture in the studio is the magical moment when a riff seems to entrance an entire room of people. If you play ELECTRIC WIZARD loud enough, you might just get there eventually, but really the live arena is the only place to truly experience the mind-altering power of unashamed SABBATH worship. Being the sensible Canadian folk they are, WITCHROT have embraced a similar principle on their follow-up to 2021's "Hollow" debut. Self-evidently recorded live, if not in front of an audience, "Live In The Hammer" renders its studio predecessor almost entirely redundant. The sound of drugged-out, adrenaline-fueled psychedelic sludge at its most intuitive, these songs come thrillingly close to hitting the lysergic bullseye.
The opening medley is a master stroke. Divided into several sections, but always flowing toward the cosmic epicenter, it's an 18-minute freakout that encompasses everything an evil hippie could wish for. From SLEEP-like, sinister breakdowns to woozy waves of CONAN-style caveman doom, WITCHROT at least seem to be in full control of the piece, although if they were being manipulated by some nefarious, unseen force, that would seem equally plausible. Nothing that follows quite matches up to that first tsunami of lysergic lava, but the rest of "Live In The Hammer" is more than compelling enough. "Dug Your Grave/Strega" leans harder into an occult rock vibe, but with riffs that crush instead of creep. The song's second half drifts serenely off into the depths of some astral hallucination, with frontwoman Lea howling at the moon like some pan-dimensional DANZIG disciple. After the experimental drone 'n' buzz of "Acedia", "Who Scared You" takes a more straightforwardly trippy doom approach, while "Colder Hands" is an anguished, gothic curio with ingenious vocal harmonies and a palpable sense of mental disquiet.
Meanwhile, "Million Shattered Swords" is a truly grand finale. With keening violins, vocalist Lea Reto in full black magic mode and tar-thick riffs that pulverize everything in their way, it's a wonderfully melodramatic and primal piece of work, and one that benefits hugely from the overdriven swell of WITCHROT's live performance. It may not truly place the listener into the heart of the action, but "Live At The Hammer" offers a halfway house where the parties are wild and weird in equal measure.