Following on from last year’s (get ready for this…) “Bewitching” return in the form of “In His Infernal Majesty’s Service” – their first album in six years – comes “I am Legion”. Witchery are one of those bands who I have really loved since the early days, and last year’s album was a proper return to form following the slightly lacklustre “Witchkrieg”. Of course, when the record cycle for most bands is every two to three years, and often slightly longer even than that for bands on major labels, the release of “I Am Legion” does rather raise eyebrows. Can even a band of Witchery’s proud heritage really do the business only a year on?

Erm…kind of. On the face of it, everything you would expect from Witchery is in place. That trademark Witchery sound; the blackened thrash via King Diamond levels of schlock; the scything axe work that marks them out among their peers. Yet, I can’t help but have the nagging doubt that on “I Am Legion”, there’s just that indefinable something that’s missing. So yes, it’s Witchery, and so you know that there is a certain hallmark of quality here. You’re not going to be tripping over any ill-judged forays into rap-metal, turn-tablists or any other such modernist nonsense, but there is something really not quite “on” with the band. It took me a while to get to the nub of it, because simply put, there are some really good tracks on here. I really found myself nodding along to out and out punky-rager “On Blackened Wing” for example, and while on a base level I was connecting with it, there was something a bit…well, off.

What is it? What could be missing? Honestly, I think I’ve managed to hone it down. The essence of Witchery is missing on this one. On their best previous releases, there’s more than a hint of the Hammer Horror school of cheese. The slightly overblown macabre atmosphere, the guitar melodies that have more than a hint of the knowingly tongue-in-cheek, but still very compelling. This is a very accomplished and polished release. All of the constituent parts are there; the songs are well written, there’s plenty of attack and vigour to the tracks. The guitar parts are as accomplished as any thrash album you’ll hear this year, the bass work and drums as excellent as you would expect given the heritage of the band…but the thing that’s missing is heart.

There are times when songs come close to that illusive Witchery sound. “Dry Bones” probably sounds most like it could have come from the hey-day of the band, with the natty chorus and genuinely sinister, off-kilter guitar melodies, but there are also tracks like “Seraphic Terror”, which frankly could have come from any number of death-thrash bands without having the tell-tale mark of Witchery stamped across it.

I feel a little mean for this, particularly for a band that I hold in really high esteem, but really I’m not all that taken with “I Am Legion”. Yes, it’s a perfectly good modern death-thrash album, but it really is missing that central soul; it’s not an awful, or indeed a bad album, but it just isn’t quintessential Witchery. Sorry chaps, maybe next year?

(6.5/10 Chris Davison)