EXCLUSIVE REVIEW: Witness – Downcast [EP/2015]

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Artist: Witness

Album: Downcast [EP]


You were born in shadow. The sun has never graced your pale skin, nor has it brightened your sullen, depressive demeanor. Instead, you are plagued by a life of murk and misery; a murder of crows flocks overhead, forever obfuscating the sun and subjugating you to darkness. Out of context, it sounds oppressive, but in reality, it isn’t so bad: when you’ve never known light or warmth, you never know what you’ve been missing. This is the immersive, intense atmosphere Witness drown the listener in with their thick, suffocating debut EP, Downcast. Downcast is the very definition of depression, the purest concept of crushing grief–as from start to finish, the listener is exposed to the most intimate and energetic examples of excruciating loneliness music has to offer, coupled with what is sure to be some of 2015’s most defining musical moments as well.

Every day you hear people complain about being tired. You know how some days you think about sleep from the second you wake up? Your entire life is like that–your first thought was a desperate yearning to be rid of life’s plague. This desperation–a fierce amalgam of drive and desire–is the frantic instrumental onslaught Witness bombard the listener with. With the exception of brief pauses between tracks for the musicians to regroup, Downcast is like listening to a natural disaster–it never stops or slows until everything in its path is reduced to rubble. Percussionist Aaron Crowder is the heart to Witness’ wicked energy, catchier than the cold and more aggressive than a swarm of agitated bees. Tracks like “Eyes” sees Crowder bouncing back and forth between punctual, elastic patterns and crushing moments of combative oppression–while “Hollow Bastion” is nearly three minutes of percussive hell. Crowder’s constant drive is amplified by the filth-laden tone and furious candor of bassist Nick Cooper’s grooves. Seconds before the climactic breakdown on “Hollow Bastion,” Cooper’s tone takes center stage, coiling around the listener’s throat and constricting, squeezing until their sanity seeps from their ears and eyes. The terrifying trio that compose Witness’ frenzied instrumental attack is completed by the jaw-dropping spectacle that is Tim Rindorf’s terrifying fretwork. If the listener was to draw a Venn diagram comprised of “energy,” “technicality” and “catchiness,” Rindorf’s riffs would be smack dab in the middle. The EP’s title track is an excellent example, as Rindorf’s roams from nu-metallic bounce and groove to murderous heaviness that sends the tempo plummeting through the floorboards. Together with Cooper’s low end, Rindorf’s fretwork rings like a wrought iron nail that gets driven by Crowder’s percussive hammer straight into the listener’s coffin.

Because no single person or group of people ever seemed to understand you, you withdrew; seeking to escape their chiming voices and chortled laughter. But the more you looked for silence, the louder the voices in your head got–the more abrasive the squawking from the crows that shade your existence become. This incessant whispering, caw-ing and barking is present in the form of Witness’ resident vocal twin-headed Hydra: Braedon Hayslett and Robbie Alexander. The simple, elegant truth is that Hayslett and Alexander combine their efforts to provide the listener with one of the most comprehensive vocal efforts that depressive, disastrously heavy metalcore has seen in years, if not ever. “Gravedance” is one of an entire plethora of examples, showcasing the duo belittling the listener with harsh barks, shrill screams and grating, gory yells. However, Downcast‘s vocal dynamic would not be complete without acknowledging the awesome clean vocals that spot the release like freckles; showing up at perfect intervals on “Unkindness” and “Constable” to give the release a sense of incredible continuity, furthering its grip on the listener’s head. While the listener might cringe at the mention of melodious clean singing, they would do well not to dismiss it–as it is one of many surprise elements that will ensnare the listener’s attention span and hang them from the rafters, as the instance of sucker-punch singing do their bit to brilliantly segue into the next comprehensive, well-coordinated visceral ambush Alexander and Hayslett have planned for the listener.

The more you withdraw, driven to a withering, barely-same existence, the more you fantasize about ending it all; skipping to the end of the pulp, putrid novel that tells the story of your existence. But Every pill forced down your throat, every gun held to your temple and every noose poorly hung from the ceiling puts you right back to square one. There is no escaping Witness’ musical mastery. Every track is an unexpected turn in Downcast‘s practically unnavigable labyrinth, pushing the listener deeper and deeper into the chasms of their most fearsome, dismal nightmares. Where “Unkindness” and it’s raunchy riffs and speedy candor catch the listener by the ear, “Deadbeat” drags them kicking and screaming to their fate, with Hayslett and Alexander’s exceptional lyricism and perfect, punctual delivery of one-liner after one-liner sealing their fate. Meanwhile, Rindorf’s runs rampant, giving the listener to respite from dark riffs that circle like vultures–only to drop into crushing breakdowns that peck and pick at the listener’s desiccated remains like starved crows. By the time “Constable” has run its course, there is nothing left of the listener but a smear, as they have fallen victim to Witness’ relentless heaviness and exhaustive use of depressive energy, ensuring that if Downcast doesn’t kill the listener, the thought of listening to anything else will.

No matter how you try to escape life’s labyrinth, there is only one way it ends for you: Witness. They are the reaper nestled among the murder of crows, fingering his hourglass and waiting for your last grain of sand to slip through its groove. If Downcast is living in darkness, the listener will almost certainly find himself or herself cursing the sun for the rest of their days.



For Fans Of: Villains, Victims, Rival, Eavesdropper, Barrier

By: Connor Welsh