Witch's self-titled 2006 debut had a lot going for it, most obviously J. Mascis behind the drum kit. Besides his stint in Deep Wound, Mascis held things down on the first LP from Upside Down Cross, a sublime confrontational sludge album that can cave heads to this day. The first Witch album was a major success, not least because of Mascis' intense, in-the-pocket approach to a genre generally served by laid-back, bong-hit drumming, and I couldn't have been the only one to be pleased with the band's decision to soldier on and make another album.
Whereas their debut was comfortable marrying the Sabbath-side of UDC with the ghostly detachment of Kyle Thomas and Asa Irons' Feathers project, Paralyzed goes right in for the kill. Only one of the tracks breaks the five-minute mark, and then just barely. The fuzz bass and metal solos are still present and abundant, but are granted next to no breathing room. Thin out the sound of "Mutated" a bit, and you might be left with a Peter and the Test Tube Babies track.
A bridge is being built here between straight-up, good times garage rock and the more expansive, exploratory leanings of Sleep or Electric Wizard. The Rogers Sisters went out on this limb a few years ago with The Invisible Deck, and this album hits some of the same pitfalls. Not many artists are able to successfully drag lethargic drugged-out intensity through up-tempo rock songs. A different kind of energy begins to takeover, and if successful, the effect is as hypnotic as it is… well, paralyzing. But failure to hit this balance results in a muddle. Lacking both pop hooks and the pure appeal of the dirge, a few of these songs simply don't go anywhere. In this sense, Witch unfortunately relies on some tired grunge leanings: songs going through the structural motions with an eye towards the exit, as if self-awareness forgave the lack of commitment and willingness to genuinely surprise.
This isn't to say that a pure genre exercise would be preferable. Paralyzed's lead-off track, "Eye," hits on all fronts, with a ridiculous harmonized guitar intro kicking right into serious riffage. It's great because it makes technical proficiency in garage rock seem fun, rather than obtuse. But the album's best and closing track, "Old Trap Line," is also its most straightforward. It could've easily fit in on the first album and, as that aforementioned longest track, could've easily gone on for another five minutes. It gives the impression that Witch is most successful when Mascis slows it down. A sludgy tent pole like "Old Trap Line" and hyper-active riff machines like "Mutated" and "Eye" point to where Witch have been and where they could go, but the bulk of the album seems stuck in between.