Ever have a chin wag with Satan? Well, I did recently and he told me horrible stories. Tales like historical accounts of the persecutions and burning of witches (and women thought to be) in Europe and elsewhere around the world. Women with special powers were feared by the churches and governments of the time because their abilities obviously diminished the lies told to keep the masses in check. And Justin Bieber thought he got roasted!
OK, the opening statement is obviously not true but while spinning the debut record from Karyn Crisis' Gospel of the Witches, inspired by the afore-mentioned atrocities, it certainly felt like o'l Mr Pitchfork was present. I'll leave the idea of that malevolent force up for your nay or yay but there are factual things about this record.
First, Salem's Wounds is one of the most sensory-captivating records of recent memory ---- a disc capable of eliciting goose bumps in waves after waves, both musically and lyrically. The second fact is that this record is also the most thoroughly entertaining release of recent memory. In fact, although 2015 is still in its toddlers stage, I cannot see anything else usurping this as the premier metal record of the year. It's been 10 years that us Crisis fans have been waiting for new music from Karyn and predictably she does not disappoint.
Actually let's back up a little. I knew this record was going to be special about a year ago. Karyn had just started a Kickstarter and then Indiegogo campaign to fund the project and from her video updates, the magic was evident right from the starting block. It began with some of the released artwork, which is all self-created. Then there was the subject matter - the dramatic topic of witches fit her music like a glove. The future looked promising.
Additionally, the crowd-funding campaign eclipsed every other one I've seen in terms of creativity. Every single one of the perks offered to contributors were 100% created by Karyn and even the explanatory videos and resulting online acknowledgements of participants were above and beyond. Simply put, this was just a textbook way of galvanizing an already committed true artist/fan relationship.
The seeds of this project began several years ago when Karyn journeyed to Italy and ended up working with Davide Tiso, the creator and force behind Ephel Duath for a planned solo record. The time was not yet right and Karyn ended up as vocalist for that band instead. However before leaving Italy, a fateful communication with an unlikely mentor would soon prove to pay dividends in the inspiration department. Through Karyn's emerging mediumship, a dialogue was started with the spirit of an ancient witch named Aradia who began to pass on the history of witches throughout time as well as tutorials on other subjects, most notably the "ancient ways". As Tiso and Crisis returned to San Francisco, they began to create the material and framework which became Gospel of the Witches.
When it was time to record, they enlisted the help of Charlie Schmid (Vaura) on drums. Karyn had wanted what she called a "death choir" on vocals so to that end, an invitation was extended to Ross Dolan of Immolation to become involved in the project. Mike Hill of Tombs also contributed vocals to several songs. Tiso handled both guitar and bass duties on the record.
And so, onto the record itself. Salem's Wounds is a meaty affair. Clocking in at 13 songs (plus a hidden one) listeners are not short-sheeted.
The victor of wars will use all of the arsenal at their disposal and Karyn does this here, going from growls to angelic note-caressing and all manner of in between. The result is that you are drawn into each and every song, with initial listenings the equivalent of reaching into your Christmas stocking on the big morning, anxious to see what new treasure spills out next.
The guitar from Davide Tiso is, as with his former band, front and center on every song, anchoring each piece of music with a unique framework that glues everything else into place, yet taking nothing away from Karyn's vocals. Schmid's drumming seems to really tap into each note of the music, putting a personal touch on each song instead of just hammering away or keeping time.
The idea of a "death choir" was a stroke of genius as it is the crowning touch on an already stellar project. Dolan's vocals are used to great effect on each song and conveys a powerful force that truly bolsters the material. The combination with Karyn is close to a supernatural event.
The record begins with "Omphalas" an opening statement of sorts that sets the tone for the maelstrom to follow. " I am no one. I am nothing. I am nowhere. I am everything. I am everywhere. I am everyone. I am all things. I am all. I am one." According to Wikipedia, Omphalas is a religious stone or artefact and in this case, I imagine Omphalas to be a tablet in which this mission statement is written. Read into the words what you will but you can envision Karyn tapping into a higher plane of communication and channelling the lyrical content of much of this record. Musically speaking, the ambience is both welcoming and alarming at the same time.
The first real track is by far my favourite song on the record. "Alchemist" is simply an outstanding piece of music. That distinctive Tiso guitar humbly ushers in the song --- almost regally --- before Karyn sweetly begins the first verse. A wonderful melody line sets up the song before she returns to more familiar abrasive territories for the second verse. I interpret this song as being about a witch after she has left the physical world. "I am no longer the dust, still and lifeless, Waiting to be swept away. No longer am I cast shadow bending in the candlelight."
The incredible chorus is compelling enough but the bridge is absolutely riveting. Schmid switches to a double bass beat and the vibe becomes more and more intense, particularly when Karyn spits the line "I'm learning how to fight." Possibly the moment of the record right there for me.
I would be more than happy with just this one song but fortunately there is more....a lot more. Following up "Alchemist" is a tough climb but "Ancient Ways" proves it's no shrinking violet. Imagine the scariest horror movie you've ever seen and extrapolate that feeling onto a musical landscape and you'll get an idea of the energy emanating from this explosion of notes.
"In the scratches of the diamonds, and the screams of the ravens, and the tumbling of the stones, I learn the rituals and old ways. Light the fire, sound the bells, move the smoke, salt the shells, coil the light, spread the cards, braid the twine, travel inward..." Now set that to an ominous Tiso guitar line and you will be shivering. If the addition of a terrifying segment with Dolan and Karyn "singing" words from an indistinguishable language doesn't curl your hair, nothing will. This is just an incredible track.
"Aradia" is a battering ram of a piece, flexing its muscles from beginning to end. After several songs of pure power, "Mother" allows Karyn's clean vocals to be featured and in addition to her angelic background vocals, she shifts between the melodic and the fierce, to great effect. Close your eyes and this track is like a dream.....or a nightmare....or both at the same time. Lyrically, Karyn seems to be addressing Aradia and her earthly demise. "MOTHER I can feel your flesh burning. MOTHER I can smell your sacrifice."
"Father" is powerful as all get out. Once again, the combination of Karyn and Dolan is lethal. "Goddess of Light" is surprising with its electronic intro and then we are treated to one of the most beautiful sections on the whole record. Karyns eschews the brutality for a melodic piece that comes at the just the right moment after the preceding aural violence.
For the life of me, I would never be able to figure out how Davide Tiso's brain works. His guitar lines in "Howl at the Moon" seem characteristically random yet there is a rhythmic structure present as if he uses a set of mathematics gifted from a source beyond human reaches. Additionally, in "Pillars", his lines cut through sharply yet have such a mesmerizing quality. This song is another beautiful piece with Karyn going for the clean vocals while supplementing it with growls that are the yin to the other's yang.
The second half of this record has been a slight shift from the first and harbours some surprises. None are as surprising as "The Secret". Another slight electro trapping bubbles away as Karyn delivers the verses in spoken word, almost what would be considered rapping. Now that would sound bizarre to anybody who hasn't heard it but this manner absolutely works. Once again, it adds more depth to the record and I love the decision to do it this way. The verses melt into another gorgeous chorus that is almost a chant. This song also contains possibly the best line of the record. "And all your time is running by like millions of insects flying to raw meat,"
The title track is a stark song musically that is almost a paean lyrically, despite the tragic subject matter. "HALLELUJAH I'm burning into nothingness. HALLELUJAH There will be nothing left but light." Grim stuff indeed.
After allowing you to catch your breath after the initial pummelling, "The Sword and the Stone" brings back the rock and Tiso's engaging guitar lines pull in you during the terrific bridge. Karyn expertly switches back and forth between clean vocals and growls, holding your attention from beginning to end.
Closing the record is "The Ascent", a fitting epilogue to this set, showing both ends of the scale, starting off with a tranquil intro and building into a wall of mayhem. Staying with this track until the end, we are treated to a hidden track that is another of my favourite pieces of this record. Tiso's guitar lines are really tasty and Karyn sounds absolutely stunning. What a perfect way to end things.
And there you have it. I can say it a million different ways but after waiting so long for the return of Karyn Crisis, Salem's Wounds can really only be accurately described as not only meeting but surpassing all expectations. In short, nothing less than a massive success.
Preview and purchase the album on MP3, CD and Vinyl here.
Visit the official website here.