In the last years there has been an incredible influx of female-fronted psychedelic rock/stoner/doom metal bands. It seems every label is searching far and wide to find its own Jess and The Ancients, Seremonia, High Priest Of Saturn or Jex Thoth. The difference is that Jex Thoth, the band centered around vocalist/keyboardist Jessica Bowen, was at least a forerunner of this particular subgenre going all the way back to 2007 when they were active as Totem. As always with these kind of bands Black Sabbath is an obvious influence as far as their heavier material is concerned. In the band’s more gentle moments influences from grunge and classic rock (think Fleetwood Mac, for example) are hard not to notice.
The band derived its name from the husband-and-wife team of Jessica Bowen and now ex-member Jackson James Thoth. Marital difficulties aside, a continually fluxuating line-up hasn’t hurt Jex Thoth or creative mastermind Jessica Bowen at all. Through out all these trials and tribulations they have managed to maintain a steady output, now consisting of two full lengths (this being the second) and a handful of EPs. Jessica or Jex rather is the type of frontwoman seen far too less in this genre. Combining elements of wicca, pagan nature-worship, hippy and stoner rock frontwoman in one package that is breathtaking and awe-inspiring, she remains relatable yet there’s something uniquely charming about her. If I’m being really honest with myself, there are superficial similarities with “Rabbits On the Run” era Vanessa Carlton as far as visual representation and clothing style is concerned. But that’s really in the eye of the beholder and up to debate when it really comes down to it. It is worth noting.
Bowen’s wonderful voice deserves a paragraph all its own. She isn’t especially operatic or over-the-top, but within her range and register she’s one of the best singers on the scene today. Her vocals combine the timbres and techniques of people like Anneke van Giersbergen (ex-The Gathering), Diana Krall, Heather Nova and some passages also recall Swedish country/punk singer Sunniva Bondesson of Baskery. She will never rasp like Cadaveria (ex-Opera IX), but there are a few commonalities in the application of different styles. That is to say, Bowen doesn’t allow herself to get pigeonholed to a certain category or technique and her vocal lines grow naturally from the music she is singing to. The thing about Jessica Bowen is she never lets her voice dictate where the music should go, and she isn’t afraid to not sing at all. The point is that both music and voice work in unison, and neither takes prominence over another.
Atmosphere is another strong suit of this record, which is something sadly absent from many contemporary metal acts, regardless of genre. Take for example ‘Into A Sleep’, the fourth track of this album, which opens up with a gentle melody, some light keyboard playing and the barest minimum of guitar work. It simultaneously channels Pink Floyd’s later laidback prog wanderings, Tori Amos and Björk’s ‘Venus As A Boy’ without the Eastern melodies. The song is really too short and an entire EP or album of this type tracks sound like a very appealing concept. Subsequent instrumental track ‘And the River Ran Dry’ takes the same idea but fleshes it out in a more guitar-and-drum oriented framework. The organ melodies in the track ‘Keep the Weeds’ are both tripped out and haunting at the same time. It’s wonderfully simplistic but incredibly effective. The cello in closing track ‘Psyar’ is wonderfully sublime in conveying a morose atmosphere. When it comes right to it this track sounds like a folk song for the recently deceased. If it wasn’t for the overarching doom aura and the lack of country instruments, this could have been culled from a Baskery record, including the harmonies on the vocals. As an additional bonus the closing and very emotionally phrased guest solo/lead is the ideal closer to a record that ticks all the right boxes across a variety of genres yet never drowns in incoherence.
Black Sabbath is the obvious influence for the majority of material present, and it is understandable that for clarity’s sake this band labeled as doom metal. Is this doom metal then? To a reasonable extent, at least, it is. The music is played at a steady slow pace that is reminiscent of Thorr’s Hammer, Burning Witch and Khanate’s faster cuts. But there’s more to this band than just that, as a lot of the times when this band is playing gently this could just be snail-paced pop/rock. The uptempo segments have a general stoner rock feel, and Bowen’s voice could be applied in any musical context, in and outside of the metal genre. Which is a compliment, because a lot of times metal bands tend to go to ridiculous lengths to prove just how metal and extreme they are, or can be.
This band has nothing of that mentality, at all, which is incredibly refreshing.
In the end it’s up to the listener to decide what he/she finds the most important. Whether a release needs to be brutal, technical or whatever else adjective is hot this week. Speaking from personal experience, I value songwriting and feeling above anything else mentioned before. Jex Thoth doesn’t really qualify purely as metal as there’s plenty of influences from more mainstream genres and even singer-songwriter type artists. This is what sets Jex Thoth apart from so many other underground artists in the metal scene, Bowen is a singer-songwriter at heart – that her backing band happens to provide Black Sabbath-inspired doom metal for musical framework is secondary at best and not even important at worst. This is something for people who like music from the heart that is directly aimed to touch your soul. Come and be mesmerized by this enchanting witch.