I don’t know what it’s like for other metal fans in other parts of the world, but from my experience here in Sydney, Australia there’s always a bit of scepticism when local supports are announced for a gig. The metal scene here is as nuanced and idiosyncratic as any other across the country or around the globe, but from my point of view, in two-plus decades of enjoying live metal, the quality of support bands generally swings wildly. Yes, this is down to my own personal preferences in metal, and in the ways music hits me right in the dopamine pathways, so it’s not like the artists themselves can be faulted for this. I suffer no illusions that I’m any kind of authority on music; I like what I like, and I can be picky as hell. Nevertheless, there have been support acts that have impressed me enough to regularly or casually follow them, but there have also been many others that have lost me very quickly on the night. Then there is Potion.
In 2018, Bell Witch and Conan toured, and I snapped up a ticket the second I saw it pop up on my socials. After the initial excitement died down, I did my usual concert-going due diligence – sussing out the support bands. Cruciform were listed – okay, an established doom band from the 90’s that I was familiar with, good start, very fitting for the bill. Then Potion were listed; I hadn’t heard of them, so I jumped on Bandcamp and gave their first EP a try. It was tight, dirty, and the riffs were infectiously catchy. They had another EP up, which I also bought…but then I probably went back to listening to The Sciences or Life Metal for the bajillionth time that year. I didn’t revisit Potion‘s stuff for another couple of weeks – I was in Italy on a tour bus headed for Piza and its famous tower flicking through music I’d downloaded to my phone, when I fired up “Women of the Wand”, and I was addict-level hooked. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
The track list of this disc follows the order in which the band released their music and acts almost as a window into their journey rather than a snapshot of where they were in the moment that a normal album might provide. There has been additional mastering prior to the disc’s pressing, however for the purposes of this review, I will be working with their digital counterparts. None the less, “Seven Sorcerers” and “Gravemaker”, released in 2017, acts as both a taste of things to come, as well as setting the bar for the level of song writing craft the band would continue to meet with each subsequent release.
Their music deftly blends elements of doom, stoner, hardcore, and 80’s metal, with a sound that is immediate and fully-formed – like the songs of a more established band rather than the first couple of efforts by a group still finding their footing. While the sound quality on these two first digital releases may be a little less polished than on later ones, this does nothing to diminish the songs themselves. They feel suitably grimy, as riffs occasionally almost blow out – though this may in fact be from the distortion guitarist / vocalist Lee Jowono employs.
“Seven Sorcerers” winds, stomps, snarls, grooves, and shreds its way through its almost 9-minute run time, and “Gravemaker” follows suit; kicking off with a stoner-infused percussive intro, followed by a warm, dense bass riff before the guitars slide into a riff that will have you banging your head whether you’re in the mosh, in your car, at your desk, or washing dishes. The musicianship is already high for an artist’s debut, and is complemented by Jowono‘s unique vocal stylings, somewhere in the centre of a Venn diagram between howling, wailing, and…sneering?
Then we come to “Dead Mountain” and “Women of the Wand”, originally released in 2018. The former is an instrumental piece, and while it leads into the latter, it feels inaccurate to say it’s an extended intro track. The only song that the band has released that runs shorter than 8 minutes, it follows the stoner metal ethos: ‘sometimes the riff is just so fucking good that you just want to hear it over, and over, and over again…‘, and it plays accordingly. Then it leads into “Women of the Wand”.
Where do I even begin?
From the opening crash of drums and guitar, it briefly builds anticipation before grabbing you by the collar and dragging you behind its horse, as it gallops through a doomy, smoky bog, on the hunt for witches. The riffs flow from your ears directly into your adrenal glands, the bass shakes your bones, the drums automate your feet to stomp along. Its solos demonstrate the band’s 80’s metal influences without being too showy, and the lyrics sear into your memory after only a couple of listens: the chorus of ‘black ashes, enchantress’ perfect for a stadium call-and-response. It is an absolute earworm, and that’s no exaggeration; it’s the band’s most streamed song on Spotify (over 100,000 listens at the time of writing), as well as my second most listened-to song on the platform. It is eight and a half minutes of absolutely kick-arse metal…seriously, just go and listen to this track. Now.
In 2021, the trio dropped their Oath to Flame EP, which contained the songs “Torchbearer” and “Hallucination Rites”. The former opens with a slow-burning riff, that before long is shrouded with foreboding bass and drums that leave the listener with a sense of being marched to an executioner’s block, cutting back briefly to the riff by itself, before the song drops the axe in one of the moshiest doom riffs the band has written. The solos create a little more of a sense of narrative than previous ones the band has crafted, and complement the main riffs of the song, acting as a comparatively frenetic breather before we’re thrown into the final forty seconds of the track; the riff comes back heavier and nastier, and it is glorious.
“Hallucination Rites” rounds out the album, beginning with a bottom-end dirge thicker than a bank vault door, before going two-for-two with “Torchbearer” in dropping moshy doom riffs…and then doubling down and dropping two in the same track (the one at the 6-minute mark fucking rips!). While there are some minor structural similarities between the last two songs of the record, it never becomes formulaic – rather, each song stands on its own; by now Potion know what they’re doing, and they do it with a level of skill it takes a lot of bands two or three albums to grow into.
And as if the songs weren’t all bangers, the actual record itself is a beautifully put-together package. The vinyl comes in two colour options (yellow marble and black smoke), with cover artwork by bassist Stella Leung, and includes a lyric slip – further enhancing the 80’s throwback feel vinyl may give those who aren’t already ardent collectors.
As previously mentioned, “Ageless” collects all of Potion‘s releases to date, and listening to the songs as they were chronologically released does indeed paint a picture of their journey as a band, with the craft of each pair of songs getting tighter and tighter. If you like your doom nice and unholy and chock full of infectious riffs, crushing bass, primal drumming, and lyrics inspired by fantasy and the joy of hunting and burning witches, check it out. There are far worse ways to spend whatever your equivalent of forty Aussie dollars is. Order it here, or order the digital releases here – hell, order them both!
Band photo by Dakota Gordon