This is a very interesting album for a number of reasons. “Barbara the Witch is the so-called Horror Thrashers’ third album. It is a theme album based on a true story from their Norwegian home town in the 1600s. The narrator is my friend Julian’s dad Arthur. You’ll probably know Arthur better as “The God of Hellfire” Arthur Brown, who is known for his associations with many legendary acts including Hawkwind, his own Kingdom Come band and the amazing single “Fire”. And there’s more. This album comes with a bonus of six “Covers from Hell”. On it there are covers of tracks by King Diamond, Ozzy Osbourne, Black Sabbath, Motörhead, Deep Purple and Uriah Heep.
But first the sinister tale. The scene is set in the creepiest way possible. Arthur explains as menace lingers in the air. “The Village” then starts. Fast and thrashing, it is theatrical. As black metal is to Carach Angren, so rampant melodic thrash metal is to Critical Solution. “Burn the witch” calls out the vocalist. In style, I am reminded a little of the Norwegian band Griffin, especially on the strength of the vocal level and guitar work, but as we expand into the title track, I realise it’s more about extravagance. The chorus is simplistic and catchy. The theme of the story about the witch is upheld. By contrast “Red Hooded Devils” starts quietly, but we’re soon going full pelt. The delivery is actually as much punk as thrash. With punk goes energy and there’s plenty of that. The chorus is raw but sandwiches a strange progressive passage. There don’t seem to be any rules round here other than do what you like and go for it. Rumbles of drum thunder mark the punk-thrash “Peter Crow”. The energetic style is mixed with a slower passage, a classic metal solo and the drama of the tale. “The Burning Pyre” returns to Arthur who explains that burning the witch may have consequences. With this in mind, the musical extravaganza resumes. High drama accompanies the furious riff and the musical narration telling us of the witch’s impending burning. “I am the god of hellfire”, announces Arthur in a moment of nostalgia for some of us … “burn the witch” cry the band. It’s like a gruesome metal opera. Arthur confirms the demise of the witch, the curse on the village and the headless horseman’s call. It is “The End of the Beginning”. “The Headless Horsemen” then race on to the scene. “They were waiting for a life in the shadows, now they’re here” cries the vocalist. The frantic progression slows down and we are welcomed to the cemetery. Off we go again at breakneck speed. An eerie tone surrounds the thumping, Rammstein-like rhythm of “Officer Green” but this is fleeting as the customary thrash metal theatre resumes. The sinister “Lady in White” provides momentary reflection and we’re back to punkland and flamboyant guitar work with “Return of the Witch”. Arthur tells us in graphic detail how Barbara is re-buried. “Into the Abyss” provides a suitably creepy end.
And so to the six cover tracks. It’s always the mark of a good band when they can interpret covers in an interesting way – the Iron Maiden tribute “The Numbers from the Beast” springs to mind – and Critical Solution do just this here. A sense of the dramatic always comes in handy when covering Ozzy Osbourne songs. But the covers of Motörhead’s “Killed by Death” and Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man” were for me the highlights on this sextet of crackers.
There’s nothing especially subtle about “Barbara the Witch”. Its charm lies in its extravagance, hyperactivity and the story line which holds together and is reflected in the atmosphere of horror for which Critical Solution are known. The story got a little in the way of the music for me. It’s good entertainment but I wouldn’t hail it as a musical masterpiece. I did enjoy the covers though, more in fact than I did the album itself.
(7/10 Andrew Doherty)