Witchery are veterans of the blackened thrash scene having released their first LP back in 1998 when most bands were grappling with the disruption caused by nu metal and the eruption of Norwegian black metal. Now on their eighth album and fifth in their long relationship with Century Media, the Swedes could qualify as a supergroup with their current line-up. Founder member, Patrik Jensen, is also the six-stringer in The Haunted; ex-Carnal Forge drummer, Chris Barkensjö, is a key part of LIK and used to fill in as the live drummer for Grave; and new bassist, Victor Brandt, counts Entombed, Satyricon and Dimmu Borgir on his CV. This is a quintet with the battle scars and stripes to justify your attention, and they should have no trouble keeping you engaged for the thirty-five minutes of their latest record.
Witchery love the anti-establishment sentiment and deliberate noise pollution of classic speed metal bands such as Venom and Motörhead, yet they also wear their Destruction and Sodom patches with pride. Heavy metal to this veteran collective needs to be loud, obnoxious, and sinful. Vocalist, Angus Norder, distorts his voice like the rasp of a man who laughs at the deal he did with the devil to enjoy a night of debauchery while his contemporaries stayed on the path of virtue in the hope that they can find salvation in the afterlife. Life is for living to the maximum. The extended drum solo at the beginning of opener, ‘Witching Hour’, seems designed to impress the chicks, but the whirlwind of thrash that follows will turn your smile to an anxious snarl. You can hear the swagger of punk among the intense metallic onslaught. The last thing you expect is a sweep-picking solo. ‘Don’t Burn the Witch’ reminds you what Watain would sound like if they made the full plunge into Motörhead territory. The grimy bass frequencies are filthy enough to send a ripple through the oil slicks of the North Sea.
You could enjoy Nightside as you would the latest releases by Desaster and Black Void, but Witchery have wider ambitions than keeping the rebellious kids and nostalgic NWOBHM boomers happy. ‘Storm of the Unborn’ ditches the noisy distortion for a chunkier guitar approach with punk basslines guiding the way. Listen to the phlegmatic growls and countervailing gang vocals of ‘Popecrusher’ – this is the definition of blackened thrash metal when you add in the rapid alt-picking riffs and skank beats. And, of course, as heavy metal provocateurs, they know how to work the crowds. The production and mix of Nightside seldom venture into the cleaner tones of a digital recording. Note how the vibrating bass groove of ‘Left Hand March’ provides the perfect platform for an audience chant of “Hey! Hey! Hey!” when the crunchy guitar chugs get into gear. NB: Manowar and Kreator, this is how you do it with a modicum of subtlety.
Apart from making it obvious that they’d prefer some publicity from Conservative politicians and religious figures for the transgressive content of their music (see ‘Churchburner’), Witchery do little wrong here. ‘A Forest of Burning Coffins’ can stand next to any of the elite death metal artists and would put many of them to the sword with its blood-curdling ferocity. Is it melodramatic? No, but the band enjoy exaggerating the diabolical bloodlust of their music. It will make you chuckle from time-to-time, but is it a crime to have fun?
Witchery are living proof that you can plunder the past to justify the immediacy of the present. They’ll also make you feel like you’re nineteen again. Are you ready to sell your soul to the devil?
Release Date: 22/07/2022
Record Label: Century Media
Standout tracks: Witching Hour, Storm of the Unborn, A Forest of Burning Coffins
Suggested Further Listening: Desaster – Churches Without Saints (2021), Black Void – Antithesis (2022), Conquerors – Stormbringer (2021)