Monday, 19 April 2021

Bewitcher - Cursed Be Thy Kingdom (2021)

Country: USA
Style: Black/Speed Metal
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 16 Apr 2021
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook | Instagram | Metal Archives | Official Website | YouTube

I still haven't figured out quite how to describe what Bewitcher do. What usually gets conjured up is black/speed metal and that's only fair to a degree. The vocals of Unholy Weaver of Shadows & Incantations are definitely rooted in black metal, however punked up they are, and the lyrics are very much on the Satanic side. The music he plays with his two (count 'em; there's a drummer now) cohorts may have a speed edge to it but it's decreasing with each album. To me, they sound rather like Iron Maiden might have done in 1993 if they'd hired Schmier from Destruction to replace Bruce Dickinson instead of Blaze Bayley. Oh, and maybe cut down on the instrumental bits too so the songs end up shorter.

Now, I've seen Bewitcher live, just after their previous album, Under the Witching Cross, and it's clear that they speed up considerably on stage, so I won't complain about that speed metal tag, only point out that it's not that obvious on vinyl. Songs like Death Returns... and The Widow's Blade are upbeat but they wouldn't be the fastest songs on Powerslave or indeed the heaviest and I'd call that a heavy metal album rather than speed.

Of course, adherence to advertising standards aside, this is another good album and another pretty immediate one. You won't need multiple listens to grasp this. Like the best Maiden, this is energetic and infectious right out of the gate. If you don't like it immediately, you're not likely to like it ever. On the flipside, if you do, it's not going to grow much on future listens. It'll continue to sound good and the riffs and melodies will keep digging a little deeper into your brain, but that's about it. Your sixth listen isn't going to give you much that you didn't hear on your first time through.

What I got out of a second listen was a bit more focus on the influences that go beyond Maiden. That's who kicks off the album in Death Returns... and continues throughout, but the riffs in Satanic Magick Attack are a bit more taken from Saxon, there's some Motörhead in Electric Phantoms and Mystifier (White Night City) has a European feel to it. As far as I'm aware, all these songs are originals, except the closer, Sign of the Wolf, which is a Pentagram cover, but Mystifier sounds like it also ought to be a cover because it feels so familiar, maybe like a Hanoi Rocks song covered by Accept, who added some classical bits in the solos, and sung by Schmier.

When I saw them live, it was in between a local band, Varkan, and a couple of bands big enough to be touring nationally but aren't household names, Striker and Holy Grail. I actually liked these support bands most, because Varkan were interesting and Bewitcher wandered on stage and slayed without apparently even trying. To haul in a weird analogy, they're kind of like Kevin Smith talking about Star Wars. You could bump into him at 4am in a grocery store and he'll still hold forth on that subject with the same quality as one of his stage shows, just because it's always in his head.

If Bewitcher climbed out of a van with instruments strapped to their bodies and a PA system inherent in the air, they'd do exactly the same thing, because I get the impression that they're always switched on. They could have jammed this album in the 36 minutes it takes to play and continued on for another three hours. That's at once the best thing and the worst thing about it. It sounds effortlessly good because Bewitcher don't know how to not be good, but it doesn't sound special. Effortless is a double edged sword.

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