By Adrien Begrand
Although there aren’t many metal side projects that are actually worth getting very excited about, without question, every time Witchery puts out a new album it’s an event. Never ones to do anything particularly inventive, Witchery specializes in a hybrid of thrash and black metal with minimal frills, but like another Swedish “supergroup” named Bloodbath, they pull off a simple style as well as anyone, as they’ve proven on four very good albums, the most recent being 2006’s spirited Don’t Fear the Reaper. With several band members committed to some very popular and hard-touring acts (guitarist Patrik Jensen with the Haunted, bassist Sharlee D’Angelo with Arch Enemy, drummer Martin Axenrot with Opeth) it’s always difficult to coordinate everyone’s schedules to get new Witchery music out, and although they were forced to do so without founding member Tony “Toxine” Kampner on vocals, the band has found a replacement who’s more than capable. In fact, with former Marduk snarler Eric “Legion” Hagstedt imbuing the new album with his distinct persona, Witchery has, dare I say, never sounded stronger.
Musically and sonically, the robust Witchkrieg shatters the rail-thin Reaper. Tue Madsen’s production is beefed up considerably, while Jensen and guitarist Richard Corpse come through with rhythm riffs that are as catchy as they are vicious. The straight-up thrash of the title track smacks of the Teutonic sounds of Kreator, “The God Who Fell From Earth” approaches the towering majesty of Behemoth, “From Dead to Worse” is melodic and joyously lunkheaded enough to have come from the brothers Amott of Arch Enemy, while the chugging brilliance of “Devil Rides Out” does away with black and thrash in favour of simple, Judas Priest-inspired metal, one of the most contagious songs the band has ever recorded. And yes, it is very cool to have Kerry King, Gary Holt, Lee Altus, Andy LaRocque, Jim Durkin, and Hank freakin’ Shermann pop in to perform some guest solos, but in the end those high profile cameos pale in comparison to the work that Witchery’s pair does here.
When all’s said and done, however, it’s Legion who makes this album. For the first time Witchery has a lead vocalist with actual charisma, and Legion takes the proverbial bull by the horns, clearly relishing having such a kick-ass musical backdrop upon which to put his own vocal stamp. Lyrically he’s certainly nothing to get very excited about (“Turn around to run, it’s the only thing to do / Someone’s about to die, and that someone / Is yoooooouuuuuu…“), but he sells that eee-vil black metal shtick incredibly well. In addition he’s smart enough to add unique touches to his phrasing here and there to keep listeners involved, from the goofy but damn catchy stuttering on “From to Dead to Worse” to his overtly dramatic delivery of the “Witch Hunter” chorus (“Witchsssshhhh huntaaagh!“). Sometimes it’s little things like pronouncing a word in a funny way that can make all the difference, and Legion’s rather eccentric take is nothing if not memorable, helping make this an album better than anyone could have expected. We can only hope it doesn’t take another four long years for the next one to come out.