Thursday, 11 July 2019

Bewitcher - Under the Witching Cross (2019)



Country: USA
Style: Black/Speed Metal
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 10 May 2019
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook | Instagram | Metal Archives | Official Website | YouTube

Playing after Varkan on Friday at Club Red are Bewitcher, a black/speed band from Portland, OR. They also issued an album this year, their second after a self-titled effort in 2016. I was intrigued as to how they would balance the two genres and that stayed fascinating throughout.

It starts out pretty solidly on the black metal side. There's an ambient but creepy little intro which transforms into a wall of sound and the vocals have a little shriek in them. The songs clearly point the way to lyrical content; what else would Savage Lands of Satan, In the Sign of the Goat or Frost Moon Ritual be about? Yeah, this sounds like black metal. The speed side comes in late in the song with a neat stop/start section during a solo.

But they slow down much more over the remaining tracks to become more of a heavy/power metal band with both the expected genres taking a back seat.

Hexenkrieg, in particular, shows other priorities. There's a lot more speed than black but it's done in a really old school way, as if this was a Raven cover. Never mind 1988, it would be more 1978 if it wasn't for the shrieky vocals. There are points where it sounds like Iron Maiden (the song) and it would take very little work to translate it into early NWOBHM. Just add some Di'Anno, I think.

The title, as black as it sounds, betrays those NWOBHM influences too. If I threw out lyrics like, "Metal heart, metal soul; drink from the chalice of rock 'n' roll", from which year would you think the associated song came? I wouldn't call this track speed metal, even though it's metal that's played at a fast pace. Just listen to early Maiden again and a lot of this will start to seem different to what we know as speed metal. This is more like frenetic NWOBHM, like the middle of Prowler or early Phantom of the Opera, than what someone like Agent Steel or early Helloween would have recorded.

Frankly, as the album runs on, it's only the vocals from the rather subtly named Unholy Weaver of Shadows & Incantations that keep black metal in our minds at all. Not that a name like that would land him a slot in a boy band, but I'm sure that isn't why he sometimes shortens it to Mateo von Bewitcher. The point is that, unless we pay attention to the lyrics, his voice is representing the side of black metal pretty much on his own.

His cohort in crime has just as subtle a moniker: he tends to be known as Infernal Magus of Nocturnal Alchemy, though it's sometimes simplified into just Andreas Magus. Mr. Weaver takes care of the guitarwork as well as the vocals and some of the drums, while Mr. Magus handles bass and whatever's left in drum duties. I presume that Bewitcher will pressgang another body into service for all this to work on stage. I assume that they only have a pair of arms each and want their drums to be live.

I liked this album from my first listen but it's too short. When Rome is on Fire wraps up with fade out chanting, rather than Nero and his fiddle, we're just getting our teeth into proceedings and older listeners will be wondering if it's time to turn the record over yet, only to find that the instrumental Frost Moon Ritual is it for the album. There are seven songs presented here, with only two of them over five minutes and four of them under four.

That means that we have less than half an hour of music, just a hint more than Reign in Blood, which did, at least, have the courtesy of never slowing down or allowing us time to breathe. Under the Witching Cross slows down a lot for a band who play speed metal and we never run out of breath. The good news is that it's good stuff and there are no poor tracks here at all, let alone bad ones. I guess it's no mistake to leave us wanting more.

After Frost Moon Ritual, I searched YouTube for some live Killers era Maiden and, sure enough, it sounded rather familiar after this. The vocals are very different, of course, but the rest isn't too far adrift, and that's hardly a bad sound to emulate. Now, let's see if Bewitcher can make it big without having to hire Bruce Dickinson.

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