Bewitcher – Cursed Be Thy Kingdom


Portland, Oregon trio, Bewitcher, established themselves as a force in modern speed metal with 2019’s Under the Witching Cross. Now Century Media are backing them on their third album, and the tongue-in-cheek sorcery, bullet belts and lyrics about rebellious gods of war and martyred witches remain at the forefront of their aesthetic. Your stereo will omit sulphur and your cape and crucifix are begging to escape from your wardrobe, but can Bewitcher summon the occult deities to transfix you during the listening experience?

Like many speed metal and blackened thrash bands of the last decade, Bewitcher aim to reclaim heavy metal’s most sentimental clichés for a new generation. This means the music rages like Venom and Possessed and mixes Alistair Crowley and the disturbing legend of Countess Bathory into a crucible of terror and satanic perversion. They don’t expect you to take it seriously, but they count on your support in the hellish theatre of heavy metal, and you’ve no reason to refuse their invitation. ‘Satanic Magick Attack’ is a playful transgressive charge onto the battlefield with the obligatory ‘Welcome to Hell’ riff of Venom powering it through amplifiers that could explode at any moment. Fans of Hellripper and Devastator will be reaching for their air guitars on ‘Electric Phantoms’, while ‘Mystifier (White Night City)’ mixes Voivod’s 2003 comeback with Billy Idol attitude and a roaring Iron Maiden solo. At this point we can add our own cliché – if you don’t like this, you don’t like metal.

Yet listen beyond the galloping guitars and rock ‘n’ roll rasp of the vocals, and a song like ‘Valley of the Ravens’ is a genuine heavy metal anthem. Here the band take the farcical witch trials of the European middle ages for their inspiration and present the viewpoint of the defiant sorceress as the self-righteous moralists drag her to the burning pyre. The epic blues-rock solo and esoteric chord-picking in the bridge section will remind you of Black Sabbath in the Tony Martin era. Bewitcher are unambiguous about their influences. The excellent ‘Metal Burner’ takes Megadeth’s classic ‘Poison was the Cure’ as its template and adds a better chorus than Mustaine’s original, not to mention some of the most amusing lyrics this side of Manowar. “His soul is lost in the space between the stars/ Man of hell, man of the Devil/ He is the metal burner/ Melting steel across the sky/ Phosphoric smoke and lightning/ Madness in his eye,” roars the vocalist. You get the picture. Lock up your daughters and barricade your churches.

The revival of speed metal, with its love of satanic imagery and themes of witchcraft, is a reaction to the sterile individualism of mainstream metal. Rebellion against the establishment, parental authority and pissing off your neighbours used to go hand-in-hand in an era before drop-tuned guitars, blast beats and guttural vocals became the dominant features. Though you’ll find no special pleading from Bewitcher for heavy metal’s glory days, one cannot deny this type of love for all things retro has its shortcomings. After all, you can dig out your old Venom records if you want the real thing.

Were it not so entertaining and electrifying, Cursed Be Thy Kingdom would be a shallow imitation of the original metal trailblazers. But music as thrilling as this deserves a place on your playlist. Bewitcher are fun and ferocious and not lacking in musical hooks that work their way into your brain like subliminal messages. Demons, be gone!

JVB


Verdict


Release Date: 16/04/2021

Record Label: Century Media

Standout tracks: Satanic Magick Attack, Valley of the Ravens, Metal Burner

Suggested Further Listening: Venom – At War with Satan (1984), Hellripper – The Affair of the Poisons (2021), Megadeth – Killing Is My Business… and Business Is Good! (1985)