Discovery can be such an important part of finding new music. The ever-elusive hunt for new music that strikes a heartstring – whether it be old or new, just finding something that resonates is one of the best feelings associated with digging through the proverbial crates of the internet. The massive library of the internet provides us with a mass resource for discovery, and is singlehandedly the primary motivating factor in the upsurge in popularity of classic heavy metal. Records that a handful of collectors and diehards knew were hidden treasures have been uploaded to YouTube, ripped and tracked on BitTorrent (or KaZaa/iMesh/Napster if you’re old enough to remember those days), and seen a handsome leap in demand for physical copies on eBay or Discogs. This re-discovery has indisputably lead to a new appreciation for the earliest days of the genre, and whether it be longtime aficionados of the style, seasoned metal musicians nursing a newfound love of what laid their foundations, or newcomers leaping in headfirst into the world of 80s metal, a wave of new traditional bands have been cropping up. Sure, plenty of bands have kept it alive since thrash (and later death and black metal) changed the face of metal forever, but this latest surge in popularity of heavy metal is undeniably it’s own movement.
Three years and a month later, the band are releasing their third album and follow-up to Hammer Of Witches, entitled, fittingly, Witches Domain (we’re working with a theme here!). Almost instantly, the band are kicking up the speed a notch, as “A Revelation, The Theosophist” quickly jumps out of the intro into a burner, sounding more like something off of Satan’s classic Court In The Act than the band’s previous early Maiden sound. But wait, what’s this? Seamlessly the band shifts back into Harris/Burr gallop – only to return to the speedy feel of the tail end of the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal for the solo. It’s clear from the start that Witchtower are progressing their sound from album to album to mimic the subtle evolution of bands from the NWOBHM that would lay the foundations of the genre as we know it today.
“Over The Top” adds a bit of flavor with some light gang vocals on the chorus to add more punch, but just subdued enough to retain that early, pre-thrash feel – more 70s punk than the hardcore bark. It’s a subtle addition that doesn’t take away from the star of the whole show for Witches Domain – the guitar work, and of course, the gallop. The riffs are sprinkled with little single note that cry out between the chords, with the tone striking that balance between being warm and slightly overdriven, like the organic fuzz from a hot tube amp being pushed to capacity. The solo work is emotive, playing off the bounce of the rhythm section before leaping into a twin lead straight out of the Murray/Smith handbook.
Taking a page from their previous album, “Night Of The Witch” leans heavily on the hook, of course complete with the spooky occult overtones the band have made their trademark, constructing a catchy chorus around which to lay plenty of riffs and more smoking hot solos. The little breakdown just past the mid-point evokes memories of late-70s hard rock as it pushed its way into what would become heavy metal, further highlighting just how accomplished the band are at working within the scope of the era. A slow intro for “Mrs. Artisson” pays homage to the slow, eerie vibe of Sabbath before a flurry of twin guitar work kicks the song into full force, making it impossible to ignore just how on point the licks are in capturing what makes this window to the past such an enjoyable journey. The seamless shifts in tempo and feel recall the brilliance of Diamond Head’s Lightning To The Nations in just laying moment after moment of rifftastic fury one after the other.
But the best bit is for last. At the time of writing I have had this record for a week and a day and for every one of those eight cycles of the moon I have had “The World Is Upside Down” on repeat, both in my head and in my headphones. The energy of the rhythm section is undeniable, providing a thick, moist cake for the icing of the guitar to spew all over. The chorus is so uplifting, with a sense of melancholy behind it that goes for the gut, this is without a doubt my personal favorite song on the record. The bits of soloing flair, the soft breakdown pulling back like a catapult ready to sling the iron heart of any fan of the classics of the genre into the onslaught of Heavy Metal Power in its truest form before giving way to the ominous eponymous instrumental closer. Witchtower have absolutely nailed the sound they were going for yet again, and managed to make a damn fine record in the process.
This being said, there seems to be a trend for cycles of nostalgia – I’m sure most of us remember the thrash revival of the early 2000s. Sure, it gave us a handful of memorable bands that made some fun records, even led to a bit of progression in some areas, but ultimately fizzled out in oversaturation and redundancy. The beauty of bands like Witchtower is that they take something from the past and evoke the magic of those early heavy metal records in their own way – while the stylistic inspirations aren’t hard to pick up, a lot of the beauty of Witches Domain comes from it sounding like whatever you’re thinking it sounds like at the time, be it Angel Witch, Iron Maiden, Satan, Diamond Head, or Tygers Of Pan Tang. The songwriting comes across as so organically NWOBHM it as though the band have been operating in a time loop, re-living heavy metal at the dawn of the eighties over and over again. And while the nostalgic cycle may burst, Witchtower have managed to create something timeless with Witches Domain, a long-lost gem of the glory days whether it was recorded in 1981 or 2019.
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