Band – Closet Witch
Album – Chiaroscuro
Country of Origin – USA
Genre – Grindcore/Powerviolence
Release Date – November 3, 2023
Label – Zegema Beach Records
Author – Andrew Dana
Chiaroscuro is a visual style in art, defined by its high contrast between light and dark colors. This title makes perfect sense for Closet Witch’s sound. Consistent with the band’s past artwork, Chiaroscuro’s cover features a slough of black ink on white, an ominous, monochromatic world that is impressively well defined, and deeply complimentary to the music that they make. The imagery of Chiaroscuro art combined with Closet Witch’s nasty, compressed, fuzzed-out tones reminds me, in spite of significant differences, of the aesthetic impact of the classic Darkthrone releases – something about this desperate, suffocating wall of fuzz feels like a beam of white light in a black void.
After their first studio-recorded project five years ago, Chiaroscuro sees Closet Witch spinning a subtly different sound: bassier, thicker, and noisier. The band continues in a niche side of extreme music that takes the original, anti-musical ethos of grindcore seriously – and instead of shooting for a “sleek” sound in a traditional sense, makes the most of modern recording technology’s abilities to create sound objects both impossibly heavy and fiendishly fast. This album is slathered in a suffocating layer of distortion, maintaining the timbral heaviness of sludge and the pummeling intensity of powerviolence. This continues the spirit of Closet Witch’s earliest recordings, extreme low-budget projects that featured a similarly intentional relationship to the technology being used. Listening to those first couple EPs now, one can hear the blossoming, bursting-at-the-seams distortion of a blown-out recording interface as a DIY version of the same phenomenon they achieve in a much more hi-fi way here.
The first half of this record is organized as a suite – each track on side A flows into the next, and it is bookended by two small atmospheric pieces. After the first couple songs, each song on this side features guest appearances from vocalists in like-minded bands. Dylan Walker from Full of Hell, Frankie Furillo from The Central, Stu Cline (a former member of Midwestern screamers Ice Hockey) and Dan Lee, currently with Wanderer, all play off of regular vocalist Molly Piatetsky’s gut-vomiting shriek in different ways. Furillo’s hardcore bark melts into the guitars on “and Releasing” mere seconds away from Walker’s phlegmy rasp duetting Piatetsky in “My Wounds Are Sacred”. Lee’s guttural growls add even further heaviness in unison with Piatetsky on “You, Me and My Venus in Decay”. Each track comes in quick succession, and their interconnectedness makes the multiple vocalists feel like a party.
On Chiaroscuro, the band finds a sweet spot in which each guitar/drum hit feels surprisingly weighty but they can still turn on a dime – notes fly quickly, grooves can still be established and riffs still come into focus. There’s more bass in this mix than Closet Witch has ever had, which makes the sound more colossal, but also offers much-needed definition to the riffs and rhythms being established by the other instruments.
The ringy, snare-heavy drumming on this recording is addictive to me. The way the drums are recorded reminds me of the crisp punch of releases from two of my favorite grind bands, Cloud Rat and Insect Warfare. Although this recording features its fair share of blast beats, this drum sound contributes deliciously to a series of danceable grooves and thrash beats.
One standout is the side B opener, “Arlington Cemetery”, which is an absolute steamroller of a track. Previously, this could be heard as a demo on Closet Witch’s discography comp released in 2020, and the nastiness is only amplified through this finished version. Whereas side A began with a slow, creepy noise intro, “Arlington Cemetery” hits immediately. The grooves reach their apex on this one, with viciously hyperactive drumming underscoring a guitar playing something resembling a tape-saturated Helmet riff at 2x speed. The first time I heard this, and on at least five subsequent listens, I couldn’t help but move to it, regardless of my surroundings.
In the tradition of some of the best extreme hardcore bands, the record closes with an epic significantly longer than anything else on Chiaroscuro (lasting a full four minutes). “To The Cauldron” features some of the swirling, evil guitar layering that grabbed my attention in Closet Witch’s self-titled debut. It serves as a nice narrative end to the album as the song fades away and the Witch withdraws back into her Closet.
On release day, Closet Witch have announced a well-earned break from performing after this release. I can only hope that in another few years we will be so lucky as to receive another hyperblast of hardcore from some of the best in the scene.
Biography: Andrew Dana is a composer, bassist, and recovering academic. His own musical output draws from free improvisation, electroacoustic composition, metal, and jazz.