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Witnesses – Doom II Award winner

Doom II
by Gary G. Hernandez at 20 July 2020, 10:27 PM

WITNESSES is Greg Schwan. He’s been producing music as WITNESSES since 2016 and has released five full-length albums, the latest being “Doom II” (aptly named as it is his second Doom album). There has been some debate as to whether Greg’s music qualifies as Metal or not. Not much of a debate, really. “Doom II” is clearly a Doom Metal album if not musically, then certainly lyrically as well as in spirit. This is a raw and deep album that lays the artist’s soul out on the table and allows the listener to sift through the grisly bits. The cost? Well the album will also draw your soul out on the table. At a metaphorical level, “Doom II” relates to anyone who has experienced loss or loneliness in their lives. The album is an emotional and spiritual juggernaut.

In a literal on-the-lines sense, the album is about a plague ship that grounds by a village. The unsuspecting population is infected; Death and mayhem ensue. The survivors send word of their story and for help, but the riders are pursued. We never know their fate. Meanwhile those who would live struggle through the carnage, the decisions they must make, and who they become (and perhaps always were). That’s the literal story. If you read between the lines, it becomes a reflection of current events. If you read beyond the lines, it’s a metaphor for us as individuals and as a society being adrift at sea, ravaged by sickness and despair, and bearing an horrific bane on any who get too close. At best we are a cautionary tale to those who come later.

The album begins with “On This Black Ocean,” the title itself foreboding and brooding. Every line of this darkly introspective song speaks to isolation, yearning, and dire solemnity from the opening lines, “We were sent with a warning / But days ago / We lost sight of the shore,” to gut wrenching snatches like “We sleep with the scratching” and “Something moves there / Something living / Call out to it / Cry out to it.”

What I love about this album is the patience in the storytelling and songwriting. In the second track, “I Hope Their Prayers Aren't Answered,” we get long minutes of the sound of ropes straining against wood to the swell of the ocean. It has its own dull rhythm that even without words progresses and imbues the story with unease. To be blunt, it is the melody of quarantine. In “Doom II” (the song not the album) we start off with keyboards and a tinny bell clinging to a measure that all metalheads will recognize as a death toll. More symphonic keyboards drift in, but as the scene shifts from the wandering to the terrifying, down drops the riffs coupled with chilling lyrics like “But none’s more selfish than a dead man / Who wants to be remembered.”

I’ll refrain from explicating the album track-by-track and get to standout tracks and regrets. As noted, this is a story and as such should be listened to from beginning to end. Having said that, my favorite tracks are “On This Black Ocean,” “I Hope Their Prayers Aren’t Answered,” and “Who Were You Before All This.” Regrets? None really. That’s like asking what scenes of a play you could do without — they’re all necessary.

I should note that Greg is as talented a musician as he is a songwriter and lyricist. When the album cranks (riffs or tremolo), it cranks; when it gets atmospheric, it gets way atmospheric. The vocals are all clean, there are some deeply poignant guitar solos, and the unattributed drum work is quite good. The album is also well produced with nuanced layering that accents the shifting moods of the narrative.

Lyrically I hope you get the sense that the storyline is compelling and the reflections profound. Stanzas like “The black ocean’s on fire / Red reflected in the stars / Red reflected in their eyes /
Some called it meaningless” not only serve to paint a lurid scene, but also pull at the scab of the meaning of suffering. Others like “Take this father / Then take this banker / The farmer and the rich / They pile up all the same” point out that nothing equalizes like the mass pyre. Again, some discomforting notions.

Everyone has their own thing. “Doom II,” for all the reasons noted above and more, spoke to me in a powerful way. If you want an album to blast your blues away, this probably isn’t it. If you want to ponder the haunting and unraveling threads of humanity, this is your port of call — you know, just right there by the rustic village.

Songwriting: 10
Musicianship: 9
Memorability: 10
Production: 9

5 Star Rating

1. On This Black Ocean
2. I Hope Their Prayers Aren't Answered
3. Doom II
4. Worse With Time
5. Who Were You Before All This
6. An Ending
Greg Schwan – Bass, guitars, keyboards
Record Label: Independent


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