I’m not going to lie, there are times when being a reviewer has all of the perks. I’m a huge Witchery fan, so when this clattered into my…erm…inbox, I was very excited! With the exception of the frankly mediocre “Witchkrieg”, they hadn’t put a foot wrong, but it has been six long years since their last tepid release. Upon pressing the “play” button, I was excited and nervous at the same time; would this be the same band who brought us classics like “Dead, Hot and Ready”, or the crew that brought us the clunking “Witchkrieg” ?
Happy to report that Witchery are back, firing on all four cylinders! Emperor Magus Caligula, their last vocalist, while a good singer in his own right, was never quite right for the band in my opinion. New vocalist Angus Norder is a much better fit, with his vocals being a tight, rasping wheeze much more in line with the classic sound founded by Toxine. The blackened rasp is perfect for the brand of high-camp satanic thrash that Witchery specialise in. Chris Barkensjo takes over from the sadly departed (he’s left the band, not dead!) Martin Axenrot on the drums, but he does manage to bring some new innovation to the sound, having a drumming style that seems much more grounded in thrash metal than his forebear.
In terms of the songs, the band continue to pursue a satanic agenda, even if that is an agenda that has more grounding in 70’s Hammer horror films than any genuine occult stance, and all the better for it! Like the bastard sons of King Diamond, classic Priest and the hyper-speed death/thrash of Slayer meeting The Crown in a back alley, these are prime slabs of the tongue-in-cheek viciousness that Witchery do best. “The Burning of Salem”, a breathless four and a half minute barn-stormer, carries with it a whole albums worth of great thrash riffs, while flirting with campy themes without ever falling completely in parody. The scything guitars of Patrick Jensen and Richard Corpse are the perfect mix with authentic bass-legend Sharlee D’Angelo, producing a sound that is not unlike Mercyful Fate on crack, with a dagger clutched between its teeth. “Empty Tombs” has all of the menace Mercyful Fate’s “Curse of the Pharaoh’s”, only with about ten times the menace (and velocity, at times), while exploring similar themes.
“Escape from Dunwich Valley”, with its church organ beginning, and ominous, threatening atmosphere, really deserves a video featuring the late Ralph Bates and some gigantic side burns, if not Ingrid Pitt and a rather too-tight blouse. It’s classic horror movies stuff, only in sonic form, with a slow-burning sense of menace and the genuinely unsettling rasp of Angus Norder taking central space. Closer “Oathbreaker”, (and lead video for the album) has an epic feel to it, using the synth sounds to produce an atmosphere without completely ruining the racing, Hannemanian ™ riffs.
As ever with Witchery, the true heroes of the piece here are the guitars, who manage to produce extremity and danger without losing their knack of producing minor-key melodies that bring to mind the very best of classic metal. The production is absolutely spot on, with not too much of a hint of a filler track to be found on the 45 minute album. It left me wanting more, and that, reader, is the mark of success.
(8.5/10 Chris Davison)