Dead Heavens represents something of a sideman supergroup as it features frontman and guitarist Walter Schreifels (Gorilla Biscuits, Youth of Today, Rival Schools, Vanishing Life, Quicksand), guitarist Paul Kostabi (Youth Gone Mad, White Zombie, Psychotica), bassist Nathan Aguilar (Cults), and drummer Drew Thomas (Youth of Today, Bold, Into Another). The punk and hardcore backgrounds contrast the melodic rock on offer on Whatever Witch You Are. Billed as a blues rock band in the vein of Cream and The Rolling Stones, Dead Heavens have a stoner rock sonic setup with big drums, distorted low end desert rock guitars and clean, melodic vocals.
The result is a mixed bag. When it works, the bands groove locks in and the tunes are psychedelic and sunny. Unfortunately the song-writing is not consistent with the stoner setup. Schreifels sings like Kelly Jones, and through much of the record Dead Heavens sound like Stereophonics – sans the production budget. The songs that explicitly mention illicit drugs are the most interesting. ‘Adderall Highway’ and ‘Away From The Speed’ have an early Kings of Leon vibe. They suit both the vocal melody and stoner groove perfectly. The eight minute long ‘Gold Tooth’ rocks with a heft of early Sabbath and the inventiveness of Led Zeppelin, gifting Dead Heavens a similarity with Sweden’s hard rock heavyweights, Witchcraft.
When this band click, they are everything you want from a hard rock band. It’s the slower numbers that let them down. Heavy distorted guitars can’t play ballads or contemplative slow burners except in the hands of masters, and masters they are not. ‘Silver Sea’ and ‘Experience’ are monotonous dirges as they appear here but either would work better as an acoustic song. Imagine Rubber Soul or Led Zeppelin III played by L7. Such lapses in judgement bring the album down but it’s ‘Bad Luck Child’s imitation of a Stereophonics B-side that really grates.
The calibre of the musicians in Dead Heavens raises expectations for this record and it fails to meet them. However, as a debut album, Whatever Witch You Are has a handful of great songs and provides a solid jumping-off point for the band. If they can produce more coherent tunes for album number two, they could really make an impact.