wytch hazelAh, a bit of proper retro-inspired hard-rock/ heavy metal excellence here, coming all the way from…erm…Lancaster. Still, the four piece have been busy, formed in 2011, and this, their first full length release following a fair few EP’s and split releases with other bands. Dodgy name aside (every time I bloody type the bloody word “Wytch”, I seem to find a new way to spell it incorrectly), this is a pretty solid record. I don’t even mind the album cover being a contender for most boring of the year, such is my enjoyment of the music here.

What we have, in a nutshell, are the warm sounding, instantly enjoyable rock riffing and slightly naïve attitude of the seventies rock outfits of yore. This may not be such a rare thing – after all, entire genres have been spawned from sounding almost exactly like Osbourne and crew circa 1975, but this takes its inspirations a bit further afield. In particular, I detect a really strong Wishbone Ash influence here, melded with some really tasty Thin Lizzy guitar work. The clean, mellow rock voice of Colin Hendra. While this, therefore, isn’t really a heavy metal album – straddling instead that hard rock space that has long been abandoned to hair metal bands and whiney indie-rock bands, and some of the classic metal tropes without ever being actually metal in and of themselves. So, for instance, when the band get their groove on in the riff-tacular “More than Conquerors”, with the particular baked sound of the bass and subtle drumming, for all your head may nod, this isn’t metal. That’s ok to be honest – many of us of a certain age cough cough may have come to heavy metal through classic rock anyway, and so that when a mellow ballad – acoustic guitars and all – comes on such as “Psalm”, I’m not diving across the room, Matrix style, in order to hit the “skip button”.

At ten tracks long, there isn’t a moment where I found my interest starting to lull. This is a really mellow listen, best enjoyed in the evening with a glass or two of your favourite tipple. I have to commend the production, which I found to have the very best of modern production in so far as the instruments are all really clear and punchy, yet also retain that hazy, intoxicating sound that classic analogue produced vinyl could give. It’s a minor triumph, actually, and one of the best produced retro-rock albums that I have heard for many a year. The song writing too, is really high quality – no easy retreads or “where have I heard that riff before?” moments to be had here – even at their most anthemic (on their self-titled track,” Wytch Hazel”, naturally) – the closest that they get to new wave of British Heavy Metal sound with the main riff, they manage to keep things fresh and invigorating.

A really cracking new band then, and one to easily rival the big names in the field, not least of which because they have something to offer that is properly alchemical – a special magic here that manages to keep the best of the past, but keeping it alive with the best of current practice too. Excellent stuff.

(9/10 Chris Davison)