It’s been little over a year since Master unleashed their last, frankly excellent album ‘The New Elite’. In my review, I awarded that album a conservative score of 8/10 before nefariously getting it upped by half a mark (thanks, Ed!). With further hindsight, the 2012 effort was probably worth more like 9/10. Anyway, the point being that whatever Paul Speckmann & Co. came up with next would have to be one hell of an album to top it. I therefore approached ‘The Witchhunt’ with a little caution: could they pull off another brilliant record in so short a space of time? Thankfully, the answer is yes, pretty much. What they’ve done is taken the momentum from last year and channeled it in a slightly different direction… Which is Master stripped back to something rawer and reminiscent of their early years. Even the painted cover art seems to come from a bygone era.
‘The Witchhunt’ itself ushers in the new Master with a snaking riff, muffled bass and blast-beat barrage almost from the get-go. There’s a bit of an ’80s flavour to the sound and delivery as thrash tempos are magnified with brute death metal force. While this is far from unusual for Master, the contrast to last year’s more pounding release is obvious. Speckmann’s vocals naturally retain their cynicism and that slurred approach of recent years, but his voice – along with the rest – seems angrier, darker and faster than last time. Take the slow grinding riffs in the opener, for instance, which are supported by nifty double bass work and excellent fills before veering off into that crazed solo. If your head ain’t banging at this point, there must be something wrong… ‘Plans of Hate’ too clatters by like an out-of-control freight train, with those unstoppable signature riffs and drumbeats led by our maniac conductor, Mr Speckmann. It’s great stuff from the start and again reinforces the obvious chemistry in this line-up. While Zdeněk Pradlovský and Speckmann power away in the rhythm section, Alex Nejezchleba really fleshes out the scene with some clever guitar work.
From the almost tentative anchoring riff of ‘Another Suicide’ to the frenzied solo which ends predatory chug-fest ‘Waiting to Die’, Nejezchleba has the ability to put his accomplished and diverse mark on tracks. ‘The Parable’ is another that stands out, with riffs and leads jumping out to throttle you like it’s 1985 (only with tighter musicianship all round). Although I’m devoid of lyric sheet, Speckmann is clearly spitting bile at politicians and the power-hungry throughout, as has long been his trademark. In particular, ‘Remove the Clowns’ projects a very clear image of the likes of Cameron and Gove on my mind, for some reason… Unfortunately this most explicit political diatribe proves the weakest track on the album for my money but there is plenty more to get excited about elsewhere. On ‘Raise Your Sword’, the groove, grind and straight-ahead attack of Master is added to with some of that characteristic, angular Czech death metal influence. In contrast, the pummelling ‘Manipulated to Exterminate’ employs inimitable spoken word and bass work to reinforce who the Master is, while ‘The American Dream’ ends things as they started: furiously.
Overall, ‘The Witchhunt’ bears all the hallmarks of the band’s Czech years: combining mechanical precision with a tangible soul. It also very much picks up where the streamlined ‘The New Elite’ left off in terms of quality – even though the songs are quite a bit longer throughout. Perhaps the only area that drags the album down slightly, as mentioned earlier, is ‘Remove the Clowns’ which a) doesn’t really go anywhere, and b) adds almost six minutes to the overall playing time. The experience would have benefited from being a little more compact, and in that sense, the omission of this/a song would have made sense. But that’s the only fault I can find. In every other respect ‘The Witchhunt’ demonstrates Master on top form, thirty years into their career.
Hats off and horns up to all involved!