Have you ever wondered what Brian Eno would sound like if he wrote a doom album? I know that’s an odd question but believe me it didn’t come totally out of the blue! Witnesses is the project of New Yorker multi-instrumentalist Greg Schwan (ex-keyboard player of doom merchants While Heaven Wept). Like many, he likes to claim he cuts across genres but Schwan really does with the Witnesses project. He’s not happy though to mix genres within a song. He’s not even happy to mix genres within an album. What he does is create whole albums in different genres. So, he’s released three purely experimental ambient albums, entitled somewhat unimaginatively as I, II and III, and between the last two of those he released a doom metal album To Disappear And To Be Nothing. Now he’s released this his fifth full length album, the second in a doom style, which I would guess goes some way to explain the title.
So, you may be wondering what would make a doom artist want to delve into ambient music, or vice versa. I’m no musicologist but I would venture to suggest that the creation of interesting atmospheric soundscapes – that are at the core of ambient music – are not that dissimilar to the atmospheric tension building that happens in the quieter sections of doom tracks. That similarity can be seen in the quieter sections on To Disappear And To Be Nothing where Schwan’s ambient experiments are echoed, but this new album now charts a more standard doom course.
Speaking about charting courses, Doom II is a loose concept album. The album consists of six songs about a plague born at sea, which makes it to land, to a village that hopes its story will not be forgotten. That’s an interesting concept which certainly could have been highlighted through a more imaginative album title. Musically, Schwan seems influenced by his old band While Heaven Wept and by 1990s British bands such as My Dying Bride. The pace is slow, even by doom standards, and to call it gloomy would be an understatement. The riffs tend to be just long slow chord sequences which in reality can become a little tedious after a while. There are some good moments though. Closing track An Ending has a really good falling guitar phrase which promises much but then doesn’t really build on that. In the title track there is the welcome use of synths which gives a sense of warmth to what is often quite harsh music. The title track track also has a guest guitarist Scott Loose (an old friend from While Heaven Wept) who contributes the solo which is another good moment.
The problem I sensed with this album is that Schwan is simply trying to do too much on his own. The raw material has some potential but it needed a good skilled band and a good production team to flesh it out into genuinely attractive material. Schwan should be given credit for the heroic one-man effort here but I fear the album will only appeal to existing fans or die-hard doom fans.