When the news arrived that All Them Witches were to record an album at Abbey Road Studios, was anyone surprised? The classic rock inspired band presumably hoped that the ghosts in the walls of the famous London studio would be their guides, and help them capture some of what made those iconic artists so special the first time around.
And, to be fair on All Them Witches and producer Mikey Allred, ‘Nothing As The Ideal’ is well produced, in a cerebral, technical sort of way. This is the kind of album that a classic rock magazine will adore, waxing lyrical over the warm cymbal splashes, the full-bodied bass, and those guitar tones. It’s precise and pleasing on the ears, heavy in the mould of early 70s metal, and traditional.
‘See You Next Fall’ is especially satisfying. It creates an effect like rock music ASMR, all loud, hypnotic bass lines and fuzzy guitar effects. Here the satisfaction is physical as well as cerebral, you feel what All Them Witches are trying to conjure as well as just recalling the grand lineage of rock music that the band seem desperate to place themselves within.
This idea of ‘recollection’ is the real problem. Across its forty-three minutes, ‘Nothing As The Ideal’ comes across as little else besides a rock ‘n’ roll seance, a shallow attempt to plead with the ghosts of history. All Them Witches may be channelling the spirits, but they’re still long dead and rooted in a far-away past.
The best tracks are, by some distance, the heaviest ones. ‘Enemy Of My Enemy’ contains dark, chiming, Mastodon-like guitars, which make up for its verse sections that recall the very worst of the modern rock music frauds: Royal Blood. ‘Lights Out’ is the album’s best song, and one of All Them Witches‘ heaviest. It’s the only moment where they manage something unique, with the strange, rolling floor tom sections that sound almost like blast beats. It’s great, and a much needed shot of adrenaline.
￼It’s odd for an album so indebted to classic rock to be so sedate. Even the loudest and heaviest sections of the album never feel like the band are fully sending it, as though they’re afraid of committing too hard and breaking any of the expensive studio equipment. There’s a neutered quality to the production, like it’s been over-refined, over-thought.
This is especially the case of the quieter tracks. While there’s the aforementioned technical satisfaction to some sections, the quieter moments flirt dangerously close to being laughable, such as ‘The Children Of Coyote Woman’. Sure, the band probably intended for it to be akin to Led Zeppelin performing a southern blues ballad, but it possesses none of the weight or grit or virtuosity of Zeppelin at their finest.
It leaves you begging the question, why bother? Why bother to even emulate these artists and sounds from so long ago? The reason those bands succeeded at the time isn’t just because they were such excellent songwriters, they succeeded because at the time they sounded fresh and exciting.
‘Nothing As The Ideal’ is a perfect example of the weaknesses of retro-minded rock. It’s hollow and neutered, despite having access to all of the tools and resources under the sun. It knows that it’s dead inside, that it’s conjuring forms from a past that’s receding further and further into the distance every day. According to All Them Witches the song still remains the same, and they’re intent on singing it to the end.