Witch house is the name given, ostensibly, to a deliberately secluded and underground subgenre of music, but has been doing the rounds as the terminology of a more general aesthetic that surrounds the mood of the music about the Internet for a while. Unless you are at all active on Tumblr, you might be forgiven for missing it. It has its roots in industrial music, infused with the darkness of ambient gothic rock and darkwave, primarily utilising synthesisers, drum machines, effected vocals and glitched beats. This is all worth mentioning and a good background to have before getting into the review proper, because witch house is definitely not the category that this album falls under.
Besides the fact that Tara Tati, an Oakland-based singer-songwriter and artist who resides behind the moniker Metal Mother, has outright denied that her music can be labelled thus (in this excellent interview with Euterpe’s Notebook), the qualities of her music are entirely different. A look at the official Metal Mother Music webpage gives away an occult leaning, but the music itself has more in common with shamanistic ritual and chants than with the sprawling, frenetic mechanical connotations of the industrial genre. In fact, most everything here sounds more stripped back toward to its natural core. This is not to say that it does not use electronic instruments, but the driving force behind the tracks – which, too, is percussive – is definitely more a tribal sort of drumming (where it can be found; Willow, the penultimate track of the album, is the most notable example of Tati’s skill on the keys taking the driving seat) than the broken electronic beat you might expect from witch house. Over all of which is Tati’s perfectly beautiful (and, usually, unaltered) soprano – powerful where she wants it to be, but most usually a restrained instrument of the mood.
This is the problem when an artistic movement springs, especially in this instantaneous digital age, replete with the lazy labels of the hashtag “#generation”; anything that vaguely approximates a movement can often be assimilated by its terminology. Bonfire Diaries deserves being treated as an entity of its own volition and character. You, in turn, will be rewarded with some of the richest sounds this summer. It is too easy to throw out the word “haunting” in reviewing the album, and not entirely just; the songs might take a hold and they might chill, but if you let them in and allow them to really touch you, you will likely be left feeling their tremendous warmth.
The opening track, Shake, captures the overarching sound perfectly, as evidenced below in the not entirely work-safe video directed by Tati herself (the track itself is also available as a stream and download below):
Metal Mother – ‘Shake’ Music Video from Manifest Media on Vimeo.
Metal Mother: Website
*The In the Bones EP is also available here, on a pay-what-you-like basis.