Wednesday 6 March 2019

Arcane Ritual - Witch-Heart (2019)

Country: USA
Style: Gothic Metal
Rating: 6/10
Release Date: 1 Mar 2019
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook | Instagram | Official Website

My tastes have long run to the gothic and I was in hog heaven a couple of decades ago when it was everywhere. It seems to be on the wane of late, a style used to add texture to bands playing in other genres, so I was happy to see Witch-Heart from a band who bring other genres into the gothic.

I say band, but they're really two people. Jarek Tatarek is responsible for all the music and Teresa Camp sings over it. I remember waiting at Fibber's in York for Inkubus Sukkubus to show up and wondered when anyone was going to set up their instruments. Well, it turns out that they didn't even have a drummer, so they could breeze in and get started straight away, like a plug and play band. Arcane Ritual surely do something similar, because I presume that's a drum machine, even if Tatarek plays everything else.

I like Camp's vocals. She comes very much from the traditional clean gothic vocal style but there's nasality there, albeit less like the Dave Mustaine sneer and more along the lines of Stevie Nicks. She adopts styles when it seems appropriate too, hinting at death growls on Shifting Perception and adding gypsy flavours to Elemental Flames, even a sort of alternative rock rap on Too Little, Too Late. She knows how songs swell and what part she plays in that process, and it all works very nicely.

I find that I like Tatarek's music even more though. He's previously known for different styles of music: singing and playing guitar for the technical thrash band Astharoth, back in Poland, and, Stateside, providing most of the music for a darkwave outfit known as Arcane Dimension, which also features Teresa Camp. He's all over the map here and it keeps this album fresh.

For instance, Witch-Heart benefits most from clever keyboards which bolster proceedings like a choir for Camp to solo over. It's a wall of sound, but not a fast one. Shifting Perception is much faster and the guitar comes to the fore with some ritual drums to kick things off and a neat riff to keep it going, but it dabbles in middle Eastern sounds too. Too Little, Too Late gallops along with that guitar in the lead, so it's not too surprising when Tatarek launches into a decent solo. It has to be the most American song here, but it never quite makes it to nu metal.

Tatarek doesn't restrict himself to traditional rock instruments either. I liked his violin work to introduce Sea of Darkness. It's not a particularly unusual instrument for gothic metal but it's handled well and hadn't been obvious until this point, eight tracks in. I also liked how he programmed the drums with a minimalist approach to let the song float.

Also, while The Storm mostly highlights his bass, rumbling on in the faster sections to help the track heat up, it ends with a jangling that reminds of a carillon. I presume it's guitar or keyboards or both, but the sound isn't and that's clearly what he was going for. Being able to play a whole host of instruments isn't enough; you have to know what parts they each need to play and Tatarek has that down.

The only track I really didn't care for was the last one, The Long Goodbye, on which the music steps back a little to allow Camp to dominate. Earlier, she was clearly leading a gothic metal band, but here she's performing solo with only acoustic guitar and odd keyboard effects behind her. This song is all about her. I think she's aiming for the feel of a Stevie Nicks ballad but it doesn't work. It feels awkward and it isn't a good way to end a good album like this.

This is Arcane Ritual's debut album, but they have a couple of EPs out. The darkwave project, Arcane Dimension, has more of a back catalogue. I'll try to find some of that, even if I'm not likely to review it here.

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