White Collar Sideshow - The Witchunt

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White Collar Sideshow - The Witchunt

Artist: White Collar Sideshow
Album: The Witchunt
Label: Come and Live Records
Release Date: Sept. 4, 2012
Reviewer: Lee Brown

Tracklisting:

  1. The Innocent Heart
  2. American Lies
  3. Watch Your Thoughts
  4. Go Eat Worms
  5. Windows to the Soul
  6. Monster Me
  7. Something Unholy
  8. This is a Kill
  9. Counting Sheep
  10. Moonshine
  11. Dead Man Walking
  12. Black Heart Hearse
  13. Belly of the Beast
  14. Try the Swine
  15. Alive
  16. Light Up the Dead

According to Come and Live’s artist page, T. D. Benton’s White Collar Sideshow, “began as a series of dreams from the mind of an addict.” It was from this life of addiction and recovery that Benton took to the road with a band of “gypsies” and began to spread a message of restoration and hope. And that’s immediately where White Collar Sideshow breaks from the pack of “normal everyday” musicians. More than being a musical act, WCS is a traveling ministry set to the tune of a Big Top experience with a little vaudeville mixed in. To complete this picture, the imagery, soundscapes, and even the band’s personas are warped around a carnival like performance.

So, what you’re getting is much more than mere music. It’s like a Celebrate Recovery meeting held at a circus. Now, you may think I mean that negatively, rest assured, I do not. It’s this carnival-rock sound and atmosphere that make WCS not only different, but unique. That said, it’s hard to judge or score an album that is much more than an album, but a life-expression. However, as a reviewer, it is my job to provide a critical reflection on the music itself. And for all the reasons listed above, that’s a tricky proposal.

First of all, it’s important to note that The Witchunt was produced by Chris Baseford. This is notable because his list of credits include guys like Rob Zombie and Tommy Lee. This also helps to explain why when listening to this album I felt like I was peering into a window that held the 1990’s version of me. The version of me who had not yet decided that the content of what I listened to was MUCH more important to my soul than the beats and riffs. This was the me who listened intently to Nine Inch Nails, Metallica, and KoRn, and even flirted with buying a White Zombie CD on a youth mission trip with my church.

I say that because, in trying to get a fix on just what genre I was listening to, the first album that came to mind was NIN’s Pretty Hate Machine, which was followed closely by Marilyn Manson’s earlier work. It then brought to mind a few bands I listened to after deciding Christ would be the primary filter of what I let influence my soul, such as (and most notably) Rackets and Drapes, These 5 Down, and Wyrick. Of all of these, the closest connection seemed to be Rackets and Drapes, as it shares the “carnival-rock” sound and themes. Of course, WCS certainly meets the Christ filter, but does it cut it as a musical experience?

The Witchunt follows after many of the stylings and rhythms of the above mentioned bands, but with a decade or two of perspective thrown into the mix. This leads to both the biggest ministerial strength of the album, and the very reason it falls just a little short musically. On the strength side, where most heavy bands today seem to rely on a screamer/grunter to ensure the “heaviness” of their sound, WCS refreshingly brings back the industrial (quasi-)goth rock of the 90’s. Rather than double-bass pedals, the listener is met with cow-bells, industrial synth clanking, and what sounds like trash cans being drummed on. Considering I still see youth wearing NIN and Manson shirts today, this brings a greater appeal to reach into the lives of a youth culture enamored with now aging rockers, as well as those of us who look back with a strange mix of nostalgia and ire for that period of our lives.

On the negative side, however, I didn’t feel that The Witchunt was the same calibre as these bands, with a couple songs standing out as notable exceptions. Because the album is heavily focused on the performance aspect (in fact my C&L copy that this review is based on only came with the even numbered tracks. When asked, it was stated that the odd tracks were performance pieces meant primarily for the live experience), the listener simply does not get the whole experience with just the songs themselves. While this likely leads to a great live show, it leaves something missing in playing through the album.

In terms of the songs, expect grungy and dark tones set against a message of hope. The strongest track, in my opinion, is the closing song “Light up the Dead.” Musically, this song has all the right tones and timbres down and has a very heavy, yet very catchy hook.

Working backwards, “Try the Swine,” “Black Heart Hearse,” and “Moonshine” fit the Pretty Hate Machine mold very well. Especially “Try the Swine.” The messages bring dark and harrowing aspects of life to the glorious light of hope. As with the overall sound of the album, expect industrial quasi-goth rock given a 20 year polish.

“This is a Kill,” “Monster Me,” and “Go Eat Worms” bring a more personal reflection. Of the remainder of the album, “Monster Me” comes across as the strongest track. Fans of Neon Horse will find some of that Halloween inspired flavor mixed in. Finally, the opening track “American Lies” does a great job of setting the overall tone the listener will find throughout The Witchunt.

Overall: The Witchunt is not your everyday fare. It is eclectic, raw, impassioned, and a little disturbed. But that’s exactly what the band is going for. White Collar Sideshow’s new-industrial-carnival-rock sound is certainly not for everyone. But for those who can identify with being down in the ditch, strung-out, and unsure of where to go, this album may just be the ministry they need in their lives. Musically, the album falls a little short, however, with only a couple standout tracks. To get the full experience, I’m told, you really have to see the experience live.

RIYL: Wyrick, Rackets and Drapes, These 5 Down, Neon Horse