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Doom doesn’t always have to smother; in the hands of Witnesses, led by primary songwriter and musician Greg Schwan, doom elevates. This band's doom is gentle, it speaks in whispers and guides with nudges -- this is unsurprising given Schwan’s history with ambient music. But when Witnesses need to assert themselves, as they do repeatedly on their forthcoming full-length Doom II, they don’t hold back. Step into the harrowing story of this release with our exclusive full premiere.

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Doom II tells the story of a cursed plague-bearing ship that finds landfall at one unfortunate village. The characters we meet, from the captain watching his crew fall victim to the disease, to the hapless inhabitants of the village near the shore where the ship ultimately comes to rest, must each struggle with trying to find the least-worst choice in a swarm of terrible options. “Who were you before this / Nevermind, that story can’t save you,” moan the villagers, desperate to save themselves and find a way out that preserves at least some portion of their humanity.

Though very much a doom record, Doom II charts a different course than what "doom" often implies. There are no traces of Boris-esque fuzz-heft -- Schwan’s production here is markedly thin for a doom record -- but this choice favors the themes of the album. Any horror relies on tension to keep the audience engaged, and while Doom II isn’t textbook horror, it’s certainly grim. In deciding not to flesh his songs out with the thick low-end you might expect, he denies his listeners the comfort of settling in. There are no anchors with which to steady, no stable platform on which to sprawl -- Schwan’s arrangements reflect the experiences and mental states of his characters. Fragile, fearful, ready to crack at the slightest pressure.

Schwan’s choice of Ternes as a collaborator points to his vision not just as a songwriter but as Witnesses’s creative director, in a sense -- to identify partners and recognize how their talents can fit. To hear Ternes’s pop songs and think, “This is the voice for my doom record,” requires an ability to think beyond an artist’s immediate output and both acknowledge and embrace the full potential of their expression.

As a result, Doom II is a shining example of the magic that happens when the right artists find each other. I can’t imagine this music with anyone else’s voice on it -- that’s how integral Ternes’s presence is to the overall experience of this record. His vocals are fused to these songs, and vice versa, so innately does he internalize and convey the terror in Schwan’s narrative. From the first few notes he sings in album opener “On This Black Ocean,” over barren accompaniment into which the song’s mammoth introductory passage of leviathan chords and pummeling toms abruptly plummets, I was enraptured by the sheer quantity of feeling imparted in his delivery and timbre.

When the song in its full weight crashes back down, Schwan’s hungry waves battering the hull of our ship, Ternes leaping up into the apex of his register, there’s no option but to give in.

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Doom II releases May 31st. Preorder via Bandcamp.

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