File under the Crazy World of Emerson, Lake & Palmer. Witch Burning is a study in the type of grandiosity and instrumental soloing that hastened the coming--nay, the necessity--of punk rock. The album was recorded in 1971, but this could be pedestrian prog-rock from any year throughout that decade. To be fair to the best progressive rock, though, in spite of the music's penchant for masturbatory solos and epic-proportion pretension, many prog progenitors were virtuostic, authentically creative musicians who simply let the music occasionally get away from them. At their essence, groups like Emerson, Lake & Palmer and Gentle Giant wrote strong compositions and were capable of undeniably gorgeous playing. Mostly morose and relentless leaden and lumbersome, Salem Mass was not so capable, and the band brought little of their own inspiration to their sole album. The main reason is that the band did not write any songs, only vague melodies that acted as motifs for the instrumentalists to do their thing. The album occasionally shows some nice instrumental interplay -- keyboardist Jim Klahr pulled out all his (or is it Keith Emerson's?) tricks, and Mike Snead whipped up some nice guitar licks throughout -- but as a whole, the album is far too overwrought for any sort of enjoyable listening.
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AllMusic Review by Stanton Swihart