There’s a question that I get asked on those rare occasions I get recognised as somebody who does a little bit of music reviewing that can really get my goat, and it is normally asked in the format of “hey, you know (insert name of band here), that must mean you know (insert other band name here), right?” Sometimes I can answer “yes”, but with the huge number of musicians and bands that are in existence in the world, most of the time my reply is “sorry, who?” Thus, it is that despite being a band with veteran members drawn from a number of other acts, and some well reviewed albums under their belt, when I was asked to review New York’s Shadow Witch, I had to answer the latter.

Well, with a moniker that includes the “Witch” so beloved of so many stoner/doom bands, you might be expecting a long fuzzed out smoky album, but in that pre-conception you’d be wrong. ‘Spearfinger’ opens the album with a far more straightforward rocky number than the gothic horror track of the same name by Bloody Hammers, with strong clean vocals, a pounding rhythm section, and a more than capable guitar solo thrown in the middle. So far, so good. Follow up ‘Demon’s Hook’ even opens with a gloomily plucked acoustic guitar promising a countryfied tinge to the track, all before it settles into a mid-paced hard rock number with a couple of toe tapping hooks tossed into the chorus. Once again, so far, so good. ‘Wolf Among The Sheep’, changes pace with an opening that sounds like a radio evangelist transmitting from the hell they deserve to be consigned to, again, before a solid rock number emerges. Yet again, so far so good. Anyone else see a theme emerging?

‘Witches of Aendor’ follows (again, didn’t Bloody Hammers do ‘Witch of Endor’ a few years ago? Must be one of those coincidences), and amongst the general rock there is a bit of a darker crawl to the guitar work, but overall it comes across as the sort of number that would go down a storm on such stations as Planet Rock, and therein lies the rub. The fact that the band is made up of four capable and experienced musicians is beyond a doubt, each element playing their part solidly, and in particular vocalist Earl Walker Lundy having a capable set of pipes, but every track seems to promise a harder edge than it delivers, and comes across as a little bit to middle of the road for this reviewer. ‘Shifter’ is a straight forward rock number; ‘Saint Magdalene’ has an intro that practically screams ‘Stairway!’ before the “rawk” rolls in; and by the time the album closes with the eight minute plus ‘Fountain’ complete with more country riffs and a wailing slide guitar solo it was obvious that this was an album that is more squarely aimed at an audience more at home with the likes of Those Damn Crows than Monster Magnet, an analogy I use deliberately after seeing that very line up earlier this year in Glasgow where the composition and dynamics of the audience changed visibly between the opening and headline acts.

I hate to damn with faint praise, especially as without a shadow of a doubt the four members of Shadow Witch are better and more dedicated musicians than I could ever aspire to be, but ‘Shadow Of The Witch’ is an album that will far more likely find a home and following amongst the readers of Classic Rock, rather than amongst the dark denizens that lurk in the realms of Ave Noctum.

(6/10 Spenny)