In the spirit of the season, when the artificial cobwebs and paper skeletons come out of storage and those sinister, humanoid gourds begin to spawn on neighbourhood doorsteps, it seems appropriate to talk about fear.
Granted, there’s nothing that scary about Halloween in and of itself—in fact in your 20s it seems to be more about getting shitfaced and finding the most culturally biting/pun-laden costume you can grab before Value Village closes. Although perhaps not in that order—but there is still something about this time of year that draws attention to the mad thrill inherent in terror; to the adrenaline rush that urges us on to investigate the infernal bumps in the night.
This willingness to dive headlong into fear is a necessary starting point from which to explore She Walks, She Creeps, the new album from Hamilton, Ontario’s WTCHS, which fittingly drops on October 31st. The band finds an unsettling balance between the familiar and the grotesque, guiding the listener to that precarious edge and inviting them to stare out and revel in their distorted abyss. The album is relentless, constantly haunted by an atmosphere of tension and dread that manages to turn your surroundings against you (try listening to the first few minutes of “Choke Bored” while walking at night without staring nervously into the darker areas). My friend Mac touches on this in his great review of the song “You Own Your Bones”, relating his experience of the song to watching David Robert Mitchell’s film It Follows. The comparison is well-taken; there is something about WTCHS’ music that unmistakably lurks.
Harrowing atmosphere aside, She Walks, She Creeps is an excellent experimental rock record. “Old Crowns” and “Whitney at the Rifle Range” sound like a sludged-out Metz meets Drive Like Jehu, while the aforementioned “You Own Your Bones”, with its hellish minimalism and deranged horns, recalls something conjured up by Swans. The moments of ire, prolonged tension, and ominous bliss all work together to create a unified collection of songs. The consistency of the album’s vision can also be heard in the production. The heavy use of space and reverb adds to the unease, creating an additional layer of removal from the listener. This is especially true in the case of the vocals, which sound like they’re being hollered from an otherworldly, liminal place.
For bands that aim to capture a sinister, horror-like tension in their music, I would imagine that trying to emulate Black Sabbath would be an easy, and somewhat tempting trap to fall into. After all, they were the true cultivators of an aesthetic that transformed blues riffs into something evil. But it’s been done. We don’t need more bands sounding like Sabbath because, well, we have Sabbath. And much like the modern day horror movies that keep re-hashing old and reliable tropes, contemporary bands that solely look backwards run the risk of becoming parodic. This is why She Walks, She Creeps was so effective for me. It categorically separates itself from the sounds that unmistakably influenced it. Mac’s comparison to It Follows rings true again in this context. It’s a film that feels somewhat recognizable but also entirely fresh; traditional yet innovative; familiar and grotesque. WTCHS achieves a similar feat on this great record.
So this Halloween, throw on She Walks, She Creeps and embrace the spookiness. You may not sleep, but you certainly won’t regret it.