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Being that there are already multiple in-depth examinations of Hellwitch's "Syzygial Miscreancy" LP I'm going to keep this short and aim this review in a slightly different direction. This extremely short record clocking in at less than 30 minutes long and was released on Wild Rags in 1990. I sincerely believe that for the year 1990, this was one of the most impressive, cutting-edge, technically brilliant, well-produced, and over the top records in existence, and most definitely one of the greatest Wild Rags releases ever. Looking at the LP from a modern perspective it's just impossible to imagine how innovative this record was in 1990!
There's been so many groups that have tried, with dismally boring and often redundant results, to imitate this style of high-tech death metal that I think it has clouded many of the other reviewer's minds about this release. For tunes this high-speed and technical they are surprisingly memorable and the vocals a perfect fit, being of a higher-pitched, almost black metal-ish shriek/scream style,rather than more common gutteral death metal vocals.The guitar work is simply out of this world but totally sincere. One doesn't get the impression these guys were trying to impress anyone with their musical prowess, rather, Hellwitch, along with Athiest and Death, among several others, stumbled onto a new (for 1990) style of extreme metal...with brilliant results.
Admittedly, I'm NOT a fan of hyper-tech death metal, but I could listen to Hellwitch all day! This release is just so far-out and well-made for 1990, and even by today's standards, that it deserves to be held in the highest regard and treated with the utmost respect, as it was bands like Hellwitch who truly advanced the development of extreme death metal. One must only listen to Brazilian extremists Rebaelliun to hear the influence of Hellwitch. Another factor that makes this record so impressive is the drumming which is as impressive as anything around in '90 and perfectly recorded! In conclusion, when put in its historical perspective one cannot but be awestruck by the audacity and talent of this HUGELY under-rated group of rabid Floridians. HAIL!!!!
Hellwitch was another Florida act with a relatively substantial history behind them, before they were snapped up through the fledgling Wild Rags records. Forming in 1984, they produced a string of demos and rehearsals of a thrashing nature, gradually swerving towards a more aggressive pasture that merged the spacey, science friction of DBC and Voivod with blitzing speed and searing brutal thrash akin to Dark Angel's Darkness Descends or Pestilence's Malleus Maleficarum. Really, the only other band among the Florida crowd that was comparable to this sound was Atheist, yet here the vocals were not so psychotic, the compositions not so sadistic or condensed. Amusingly, while it's a good enough debut, Syzygial Miscreancy suffers a few of the same setbacks as Piece of Mind.
For a Scott Burns mix, this album is fairly smooth and clear, lacking some of the processed mud that dampened the debuts of Deicide or Malevolent Creation, but also not a far cry in the guitar tone and muted battery of drums and rhythm guitars. The cover art is incredibly bad, as if the Green Goblin's skull were transformed into a flame trailing meteor, awkward title placement providing a cringe worthy aesthetic. Definitely not on par with a Leprosy, Altars of Madness, or even the iconic simplicity of Deicide or Piece of Time, but then, there was no Combat, Earache or Roadrunner backing this band up. Stylistically, the band performs blitzkrieg thrash metal often interlaced with passages of almost frivolous excess. The various riffs are conjoined only in their quickening intent, and thus the transitions often feel sloppy, too stop/start. Not as catchy or well written as a lot of the technical stuff coming out of Europe (Coroner, Destruction, Deathrow and Vendetta), but they certainly evoke an interstellar asylum effect that places them in a rare order with Sadus, Nasty Savage, Terrahsphere, Atheist and so forth.
It's not a surprise that most of the songs here were taken from a few of the previous demos, but despite their separate points of origin, they flow with a crass consistency. "The Ascent" is a fine, lonely clean guitar passage which lasts all of 30 seconds before the skies collapse with their rabid vampire ode "Nosferatu", claimed from their first demo in '84. The band throw a half dozen riffs at you in hopes that they'll stick, but unlike the spasmic contortions of Altars of Madness, they do not always succeed. The lead sequence is great, the vocals barking and bloody, and then it's off to the Voivod-like intro "Viral Exogence", whence suddenly Hellwitch have discovered their vocabulary skills. Wordy titles abound, like "Sentient Transmography", "Pyrophoric Seizure" and "Mordirivial Dissemination", and the slicing hyper guitars nearly live up to them, creating a nexus of paranoia and brutal subdual for the confounded audience. Personal faves here are "Moririvial Dissemination", which feels like a post-apocalyptic Dark Angel circa '86; "Sentient Transmography" with its towering rhythmic vernacular; and "Pyrophoric Seizure" and "Purveyor of Fear", both polished from the earlier Mordirivial Dissemination demo (1987).
Unfortunately, Hellwitch are often in such a rush that they seem to trend towards expletive force over memorable songwriting. From a technical standpoint, this is definitely something that will spin your head around a few times on the spine, but only for the actual velocity, not for the cleverness through which its constituent ligaments are joined together. Syzygial Miscreancy is definitely a solid exercise in extremity, one that feels fairly fresh even by today's standards, but unlike several of their Florida peers, they don't really come up with 'hits' that you want to listen to repeatedly for decades. That said, this is an experience I would recommend to anyone that favors a spell of pseudo-intellectual depth with their riffing alacrity. The lyrics are well written, the concepts interesting and the potential barks raving mad up a different tree than what most of the death metal or death/thrash bands were pushing in the early 90s. It might be a little hard to find the original, but you're in for a treat with either the 2008 reissue (including a pile of their demos) through Displeased or the Final Approach compilation, which consists of this album and the follow-up EP Terraasymmetry. There's not enough here to really survive the near 20 year gulf before the slightly superior sophomore album in 2009, but it's a curious and punishing excursion to the brink of sanity.
Do you like your Thrash to be mixed with the sound of the Florida Death Metal scene from the late 80’s/early 90’s? Do you like your Metal raw, with an in-your-face attitude? Then check out this re-release of Hellwitch’s "Syzygial Miscreancy".
I could just end the review right there, but that would be doing the band and this album an injustice. Hellwitch formed back in 1984 and released several demos before their debut full-length, "Syzygial Miscreancy", was released in 1990. Seeing that the original release was only a little bit over 25 minutes long, this re-release comes with songs from four different demos (sometimes featuring earlier versions of songs from the actual album) added on as an extra bonus.
The overall best song here is "Nosferatu", an extreme blast of heaviness and speed that ranks up with the best of its genre. It is chock full of insane soloing, riffs and tempo-changes, all within three minutes! This song can be found three other times on the album in varying different stages, since it was included on the majority of their demos. It’s interesting to hear how the song evolved but the best version is the one released with the original album. From start to finish, the original "Syzygial Miscreancy" album thrashes, growls and changes speeds in a Thrash/Death fan’s wet dream. The band members are all talented, and even though many of the songs are short, they’re very complex without being close to anything "progressive." This is raw Thrash/Death Metal here, folks.
One complaint would be that the vocals are pretty bad. However, fans of low-budget Black Metal and early Death Metal demos of the mid 80’s might enjoy or at least tolerate them more. Also, even though there were many demos included to inflate the running time, the actual album is just barely under 26 minutes long. The demos may be more of interest to lifelong fans of the band or fans of demos in general, but for the casual fan, most of these aren’t worth more than a couple of listens.
Still, I’m glad I was given the opportunity to review this album, as Hellwitch is one of many bands from the 80’s/90’s that was largely forgotten. Thankfully, now we get the opportunity to hear this album once again. Be on the lookout for a new album from this band, to be released in August or September.
(Originally published for www.metal-temple.com)
Note: I'm reviewing here a sort of compilation of this band's works that is not listed on the Metal Archives page, featuring the Syzygial Miscreancy album in its entirety and then a collection of the band's demo material stacked on top of one another. It is NOT the Final Approach compilation. I don't know what exactly this is, so I'm going to assume it's some kind of promotional release by the label to commemorate the band's return to the scene. Bear with me here.
Florida's Hellwitch are a band with a big vocabulary, as is evident from one glance at the tracklisting on here that makes old Carcass look like High School spelling bee contestants in comparison. "Viral Exogence"? "Mordrivial Dissemination"? "Pyrophoric Seizure"? If this was anything other than an obscure 1990s extreme metal album I don't know what anyone would be able to make of it!
Okay, okay, that was exaggerating a little, but Hellwitch are a very eccentric band. This kind of sounds like what would happen if you took Atheist's rawer material, mixed it with some early Death, and then shook it up in a blender to get the kind of jaggedness and general uneasiness these compositions exude. This is very fast, blistering, complex stuff, and if you miss too much of it and let your attention drift, the music may become boring and it may lose you in its winding catacomb of insanity - it's happened to me. There's really nothing about this music that is easy to like or digest, and that's actually one of its strong points; such unabashedly uncommercial music is respectable, at least when done with a level of proficiency and instrumental talent. Yes, this is as good a middle finger to the mainstream as anything else released in the underground 90s scene, and Hellwitch manage to deliver some intelligent metal that still manages to thrash the fuck out.
So we kick off with a useless intro piece that served better being integrated into the song as is demonstrated on the demo recordings, and then we kick into "Nosferatu," a song which crops up quite often here and seems to be this band's trademark one. It's a good little song, with some nice riffs, but it's not the best the band have to offer. The rest of the album itself is divided between short, direct, ballsy thrashers and more complex, weird numbers like "Mordrivial Dissemination," which is my pick for the best song on this album, with its bizarre arrangements and haphazard riffs.
The bonus stuff is long, and there are actually three more versions of "Nosferatu" featured here, which I have dubbed "Nosferatwo," "Nosferathree" and "Nosfouratu" respectively. Once again, good song, but not the best; satisfactorily thrashy. I think the real gems in here are bigger, more epic songs like the melodic "Satan's Wrath" and "Fate at Pain's End." Some of the later songs are demo songs and are kind of glitchy, even skipping in places, and the end of the album suffers as a result. Although good old "Nosfouratu" at the end there is actually my favorite version, just for the antique nature of it when one of the band members says "Nosferatu, take one." I mean, it's the first take - that's special right there.
Always super fast and super technical, Hellwitch will make fans of prissy modern metal piss themselves in fear. Worthy.
Originally written for http://www.metalcrypt.com
Anyone that read the liner notes of Unquestionable Presence would be aware that the musicians of Atheist liked to indulge in some marijuana before writing their spacey technical progressive death/thrash. Well, I have no idea what kind of drugs could produce Hellwitch's type of music. This has to be one of the most schizophrenic-sounding albums I have ever heard.
To start, a lot of this album sounds like a cross between Gorguts and Atheist's Piece of Time or Unquestionable Presence, especially when they tremolo pick those odd, weaving, melodic phrases. I notice some people say how a certain band supposedly has "insane vocals", usually in regard to ones that have screaming or something. Patrick Ranieri, vocally similar to Kelly Schaefer on meth, is the only person that I could think of as actually sounding as though he is severely fucked in the head. He gives such a manic and quick performance, I recall doing a double take after pulling up the lyrics to "Nosferatu" when his lines kicked in, as I completely missed what he was saying with the lyrics right in front of my face.
The instruments have a thick sound, a benefit of Morrisound production, I would guess. It doesn't have a "clean" production, per se, but you can hear what's going on without really putting massive auditory effort. The guitars are especially thick, the rhythms having a strong, sharp punch to them and the tremolo lines having a clear, spacey quality to them when they are highlighted by production.
Strangely enough, as crazy as this album sounds, the songs tend to have a somewhat reliable verse chorus verse structure, unlike Atheist whom switched with almost every song. The pure energy and focus of the album is what causes you to percieve some random insanity. This release is a must have for fans of technical death thrash in the vein of Atheist or Human-era Death.
Spawned from a scene that knows a little something about technical death metal (see Death and Atheist if you've been living under a whole shitload of rocks), Hellwitch never quite received the attention they deserved. Sporting an odd title, and deceptively silly album cover, "Syzygial Miscreancy" delivers a barrage of constantly changing riffs and intricate structures.
For the record, the disc's opening track, "Nosferatu" (actually track 2, as there is an intro), does seen a bit out of place. Not a bad song by any means, but certainly a more straightforward thrasher than what comes after. The rest of the album is technical death-thrash of the highest order, and there is no denying the incredible musicianship. Throw in some rabid vocals, bursts of speed, and one unexpected accoustic break, and you have a nasty slice of metal on your hands.
So what could have made this album better? There are great riffs here, but some of them just aren't as memorable as others. That said, the album never gets boring, and should hold the attention of any early Death or Atheist fan. Intense and over-the-top. Go find this gem now!