Well, Wytch Hazel produced my album of the year in “Prelude” back in 2016, and it has remained in heavy rotation in my music list ever since. That album was a heady, smoky and somewhat charmingly naive piece of folk-ish rock warmth, with an insane ear for a catchy hook. It’s taken a couple of years for the Lancastrian four piece to come back with this ten track follow up. Is it more of the same, or could this be something quite different?
Well, in actual fact, it’s probably a little of both, and that’s no bad thing. While the core sound of Wytch Hazel remains somewhere in the mid seventies home of hard rock, there are some more influences beyond the UFO and Lizzy heavy vibe of the first full length affair. Hard rock aficionados may recognise a slight stylistic nod to the classic album art of Wishbone Ash’s “Argus” album, with the warrior this time being seated on horseback. It’s not likely to be an accident either, with main songwriter of the group Colin Hendra admitting that he spent a lot of time in the writing process listening to Wishbone Ash, Thin Lizzy and Judas Priest. To that end, while the warm hard rock tone is definitely present in that all-too smooth voice and ringing guitar notes, there is a more aggressive core to the music here.
The great news for fans of the first album, (and I will admit to being a bit – well – evangelical in trying to get my music loving fans to listen to it) is that the songwriting chops are still incredibly strong here. Tracks like “Still We Fight” are the huge rock anthems that should have been written in the late seventies, with the fierce rhythm and soaring guitar melodies, yet somehow weren’t. As before, the lyrical content seems to be dealing with the band’s unashamed protestant Christian beliefs, (to be honest, I don’t have a huge issue with that. At least it’s earnestly felt by the band, unlike the faux rebellion of “Satanists” in black metal bands), though heavy on allegory around conflict, struggles and redemption. There are plenty of pure musical chops though, with a band that’s thoroughly in charge of their instruments, as on the joyous romp “Chorale”.
Of course, the production is absolutely brilliant, bringing with it the kind of enthusiastic power of classic rock albums, all bright and unashamed, with the punch and power of the modern tools. If I have any negative criticism at all, it might be that the songs don’t have the instant appeal that many of those on “Prelude” had. Repeated listens have uncovered some hidden depths to this album, however, and as the ending chords of the melancholic “Angel Take Me” finish at the end of the collection, I do get a sense that this an album that sees Wytch Hazel mature slightly. Whether that is a good thing will depend rather on your love of big, dumb catchy hooks, or more sophisticated and occasionally mellow moments.
(8.5/10 Chris Davison)