Friday 14 May 2021

Inkubus Sukkubus - The Way of the Witch (2021)

Country: UK
Style: Gothic Rock
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 30 Apr 2021
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I remember Inkubus Sukkubus well, in part because they sounded great when I saw them live in 2003 in a pub in York and in part because they introduced me to the drum machine. I don't mean that I hadn't heard of drum machines before, but I recall sitting there after a few pints in, wondering about when they would start their set, given that time was moving on and there was no drumkit on the stage. Of course, it didn't hold them back at all, because they eventually showed up, simply plugged in and got straight down to business without hesitation. Talk about portability!

I'm listing them as gothic rock, because that's kind of where they fit musically, but there are a couple of key notes to make here. One is that the themes have always been pagan in nature, the songs going back to their first album in 1990 being about witches and faeries and whatnot, with only an occasional nod to more traditional gothic fare like vampires. The other is that they've stayed completely true to their roots over a thirty year career, remaining independent and in charge of their own destiny, with no pandering to fashion or outside influences. I respect that.

What I like about them most is how easily they find their grooves. Because of that drum machine, the band is a trio, with Tony McKormack on guitar and a variety of other stringed instruments, as well as keyboards, and Roland Link on bass behind the striking frontwoman Candia McKormack. Yet they can launch into a song and be firmly in its groove just as quickly as they plugged in and played at that York gig. There's usually an intro of some sort from Tony, whether it's on guitar or keyboards, and after an initial repetition or two, it builds and suddenly the band kick in and we find ourselves caught up in the groove before a single word is sung.

And the Sea Shall Consume You is a perfect example of this. He sets up a four note riff, echoes it with a single note varied and repeats those eight notes four times, at which point he starts adding layers as if he's an entire string section. The beat kicks in before thirty seconds and we're already hypnotised. I remember this sort of thing from the Sisters of Mercy but Inkubus Sukkubus don't need eight minutes of build. This entire song is built on four notes and it still had me dancing in my chair on a first listen.

As that might suggest, everything here is rhythmic, ironically for a band without a drummer. Much of what Tony does is to build rhythms with his guitar, his keyboards, even his backing vocals, I won't fault him as a musician but you won't find him showing off with solos much here. He's always most obvious as the creator of the textures that the songs are set against, whether that's as a writer or performer. And those textures are inherently rooted in rhythm.

What surprised me here was how varied those textures were. It's been a while since I've listened to an Inkubus Sukkubus album, but I remember consistent, mostly upbeat tempos and, while those are here in abundance, there's also a lot of variety.

The Girl in the Grey Rags is a patient intro to play as a neat bookend to the title track, which turns out to be a patient way to close out the album. It's a longer song for Inkubus Sukkubus at over six minutes, but it builds very well. It's certainly a highlight but my favourites show up in between these bookends. Beneath the Moon and the Trees is a delicate and hypnotic piece with darker overtones. The Morning Star follows suit but with a more commanding vocal from Candia, a guitar motif borrowed from early Leonard Cohen and an even more atmospheric use of bells in the background than on other songs. It's fair to say that Tony really likes his bells. Most stark of all, Where Have You Gone, My Daughter? is an enticingly beautiful folk song set over a simple beat and a drone.

It feels good to tap back into what Inkubus Sukkubus are getting up to nowadays. It looks like they've been busy while I've been away, quietly knocking out album after album, waiting for me to tune back in. This is their twenty-third album since Beltaine in 1990, which is an enviable production rate for any band. That this is just as good as I remember them being on Belladonna & Aconite or Vampyre Erotica back in the prior millennium renders it an even greater achievement. Now, I think I have catching up to do.

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