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Witnesses – The Holy Water

The Holy Water
by Gary Hernandez at 30 July 2022, 7:12 PM

WITNESSES is the brainchild of multi-instrumentalist Greg Schwan. Through his project, Schwan lays witness to a myriad of visions that pass before his mind’s eye. From Atmospheric Cinematic explorations which invoke images of forlorn sci-fi cityscapes, to melancholic introspectives and murder ballads, to immersive Doom-laden stories of the plague and, now, vampires—or victims thereof—WITNESSES spans a wide and diverse breadth. On July 15, 2022, Greg released his eighth album, “The Holy Water.” The EP grows his catalogue of Doom and taps into a rich vein of gothic lore—the story of Dracula—but from the unique perspectives of two lesser showcased characters.

While most readers focus on the male characters of Bram Stoker’s masterpiece—Count Dracula, the one and only; Van Helsing, the stalwart adversary; and Jonathan Harker, the indefatigable and heartstrong hero—in “The Holy Water,Schwan casts his gaze to Dracula’s first victim, Lucy Westenra, who actually later turns into a vampire herself, and Mina Harker, who is the default heroine of the tale as well as Lucy’s best friend. (It seems Dracula liked to keep a tight radius when he threw his net.)

The Holy Water” comprises a scant three tracks, but spans over 18 minutes. Much in the long-loved Metal tradition of delving way the hell deep into obscure shit, those 18 minutes takes us far into the backwoods of Dracula mythos. Track one, “Borgo Pass,” references the real-life Tihuta Pass, which cuts through the Romanian Bargau Mountains leading to, heavy pause, Transylvania. This track features classic down-tuned riffs across prolonged tempos which tap into Schwan’s core strength—creating an immersive soundscape. This is juxtaposed against Gabbi Coenen’s (RVBY MY DEAR) clean, lush vocals. The end result is a slow emotive burn that just oozes gothic ethos.

The lyrics of “Borgo Pass” are also heavily atmospheric, first creating a sensual link to the landscape and later a visceral link to the would-be motives of the opposing forces of good and evil. Perhaps the message here is that the battlegrounds over which the classic patriarchal forces wage war are often the body, lives, and souls of women.

The second track, “Cloistered in Purfleet,” centers on the location where Dracula first gains a footprint in England with his purchase of Carfax Abbey, becoming a legit British landowner. (Marxist overtones, anyone?) It is also the location of the insane asylum where everyone’s truly favorite character, R.M. Renfield, is held under the watchful eye of Dr. Jack Seward. The doctor, btw, also proposes to Lucy (and is turned down) along with two other blokes who I guess are either disappointed or secretly thrilled that their girlfriend becomes a vampire. Anyway, this is a synth heavy track accented with heavy guitar flourishes, but still very ambient and very subdued. Again, here Gabbi Coenen creates the perfect seal for the track with her soprano, chorale vocals which create an ambiance of both asylum and cloister.

Lyrically, “Cloistered in Purfleet,” seems to come from Dracula’s POV, speaking to Mina and reflecting a whisper of his more salient desire—to hide his treasure away for safe keeping as an act of love. Those hopes, of course, are ultimately dashed, leading to Dracula’s literal impaled heart and desiccated body. Some heavy messages here about the sad outcomes of trying to lock away ‘love, twu love.’

The final track, “Ballad of Lucy and Mina,” is not so nearly as oblique in its reference as the first two, solely focusing, at least in title, on the heroines. It is a short acoustic piece sans vocals but carrying a definite motif of sharps and flats. The overall effect is a sense of disquiet and unease—the perfect way to end the EP and send us all off to bed to drift in sanguine dreams of love and horror.

Altogether, “The Holy Water” is a perfect communion (yep, that just happened) of Doom Metal and Cinematic Atmospheric as well as Greg Schwan’s musical artistry and Gabbi Coenen’s ethereal delivery. I should also mention Matt Kozar’s consistently strong performance across this and previous WITNESSES releases. The EP’s only drawback is its brevity. Fans of vampiric lore as well as Doom and Atmospheric should thoroughly enjoy. Once again, WITNESSES offers up a divergent take.

Songwriting: 8
Musicianship: 8
Memorability: 7
Production: 8

4 Star Rating

1.  Borgo Pass
2.  Cloistered in Purfleet
3.  The Ballad of Lucy and Mina
Greg Schwan – Bass, guitars, keyboards, drum programming, lyrics, arrangement, mixing, mastering, layout

Gabbi Coenen – Vocals
Matt Kozar – Guitars
Record Label: Independent


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Edited 11 August 2022

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