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Amidst the booming 'retro' trad metal scene that has popped up in the late 2000s and early 2010s, Icarus Witch - one of the earlier examples of the resurgence - have mostly been cast to the side. I think that's a mistake, as Songs for the Lost is a kick ass album. I remember not liking this much back when I first heard it, but since then it's really grown on me.
This is just great heavy metal. The riffs are groovy and hooky as hell, and the vocals are a high, nasal whine with some real old school grit that recalls old Vicious Rumors or Metal Church, though the music is more old school than even that. The lyrics are dark and mystical and the atmosphere created by the music is fittingly ominous and dark. They also touch on something more original in the few spots where they utilize acoustic guitars - it adds to the atmosphere and gives the album more texture and depth. Frankly I'm surprised more retro doom/trad bands never tried this. There isn't one central musical influence here, and the band takes what they liked about really old 70s and 80s metal like Dio, BOC, Sabbath and Rainbow and updated it with their own flavor and sound. A lot of newer traditional metal bands seem afraid to go outside their borders, as if that would compromise their old-school throwback cred, but Icarus Witch were good songwriters first and retro second, which is an important distinction.
On songs like the brash, rocking "Out for Blood," with its gang shouts, and the groovy "Written in the Stars," the band is at their most accessible - with riffs and hooks Dio could have written on some of his old solo albums. But then you get "The Sky is Falling," a slower, doomier track with light sprinklings of keyboards and acoustics making for a hypnotic and addictive song. Others like "Queen of Lies" and the slow, eerie "House of Usher" follow suit - just great, dark metal alchemy. "Nature of the Beast" is a great track as well, with creepy chorus lines and a killer main riff. "Smoke and Mirrors" is a bleak acoustic ballad to close things out and it's another good track - a calm sing-along for your next camp-out at the local cemetery. There isn't a bad song on this album, frankly, even the Def Leppard cover "Mirror, Mirror" fits right in and sounds good in the context of the album.
There's a big fanbase these days for retro, old school heavy metal played by young dudes in leather jackets, but Icarus Witch was doing that years before it became cool again - and much better. Fans of melodic metal and rock needed this one yesterday, so go treat yourself to a listen if you haven't heard it.
Icarus Witch seems to share several similarities with Ritchie Blackmore's Rainbow in terms of their stylistic evolutions over such short periods of time. This is not only made obvious by former Rainbow singer Joe Lynn Turner's guest appearance on the band's cover of Def Leppard's "Mirror Mirror (Look Into My Eyes)," but also in the band's interesting transition from a Maiden-esque sound to a more hard rock format. In fact, I like to think of this album as being the Witch's answer to "Stranger In Us All."
While Icarus Witch has always made subtle changes in their overall sound, the jump to this album from "Capture the Magic" may be their most drastic to date. The heavier guitar crunch of the past two efforts seems to have disappeared and has been replaced with songs based more around accessible mid-tempo riffs and catchy choruses. There is also an almost Renaissance/Baroque flavor on the more melodic tunes like "The Sky Is Falling" and the ballady "Smoke And Mirrors." Fortunately, the band is still recognizable with the bass always having a strong presence and the vocals still retaining their unique though nasally flavor.
Most of the songs are based around more laid-back tempos on tunes such as "Nature of the Beast" and "The Devil's Hour," but there are still several songs that manage to sound unique and memorable. "Out For Blood" is an energetic tune with upbeat riffs and almost aggressive vocals and "Smokes And Mirrors" makes for a pretty solid ballad. Like the other reviewers, "House of Usher" is probably my favorite track on here. It is not only one of the darkest and most aggressive songs that the band has ever written, but it also seems to hint at the darker sound that would come on this year's "Draw Down the Moon."
I'd also like to take a moment to look at the band's version of "Mirror Mirror (Look Into My Eyes)" for it may be the best and most fitting cover that the band has put out to date. I really like the band's take on Alice Cooper's "Roses On White Lace," but this song seems to fit the band's style and makes use of a good cameo. It also made me take a closer look at the earlier eras of Def Leppard with some interesting results to be found. It's definitely better than if they had covered "Pour Some Sugar On Me..."
While the changes on here do make for an interesting and enjoyable release, the album does have a few flaws. Fans of the band's old sound may be turned off by the newfound AOR elements and the some of the songs aren't as hard hitting as they could be. That and the vocals are still an acquired taste, though I don't know if that'll ever change. His voice may be slightly controversial and does sometimes need a little more charisma, but he always manages to sound unique...
All in all, this is probably my favorite Icarus Witch album and the one that I'd recommend as a good starting point for those interested in checking the band out. They may be comprised of old parts but the puzzle that is created is definitely something pretty new.
1) Interesting change of direction
2) Strong guitar and bass playing
3) Good song variety
1) Some fans may not agree with changes
2) Vocals still an acquired taste
3) Some songs could use more aggression
My Current Favorites:
"Out For Blood," "Written In The Stars," "The Sky is Falling," "Mirror Mirror (Look Into My Eyes)," and "House of Usher"
Yes, this album is catchy as hell, but I've always maintained that catchiness does not equal quality. This statement has never been exemplified as strongly as it has been on Icarus Witch's sophomore effort, Songs for the Lost. Icarus Witch plays a hard rocking blend of 80s arena rock and Def Leppard power pop... notice the word metal isn't in the description anywhere. I don't consider this album to be metal, is this a bad thing? No, I happen to like Guns n' Roses, however metal they are not. But don't let the guise of the traditional metal tag confuse you, you will bang your head maybe once throughout the duration of this extremely boring record. House of Usher contains some of the only solid riffs, and is probably the highlight of the record.
Now, let's get something straight, when I first heard this band, I proclaimed that it sounded like a slightly heavier Def Leppard with a sedated Geddy Lee on vocals. Now is it any surprise that they cover Def Leppard's Mirror Mirror here? My top 5 least favorite bands of all time are as follows:
1. Air Supply
4. Bon Jovi
5. Def Leppard
You'll notice that Def Leppard is the fifth entry on this list. Therefore, pretty much anything bearing even a passing semblance to them is bound to be tossed on to my shit list faster than Rosie O'Donnell to a free taco. And as if the sonic similarity wasn't enough to twiddle my anus for eternity, they covered a fucking Def Leppard song to boot! Congratulations Icarus Witch, any merit you may have had just got launched out the window.
Now, with my irrational hatred for all things Def Leppard aside, Icarus Witch are essentially behind on the times. Hey, I enjoy Municipal Waste and Evile as much as the next guy, but this isn't a good representation of yesteryear like the aforementioned examples are. Listening to Songs for the Lost makes me feel a little queasy... it's like a watered down, shamelessly cheesy 2nd tier 80s arena rock band. I can hear Written in the Stars being played to sold out arenas back in the mid 80s, but given the current timeframe, it's nothing we haven't heard a million times before a million times better. The stripped down riffs only seem to click in a few songs, namely Written in the Stars and House of Usher. In case you can't tell, those are my two favorite songs on this album. There are standout segments of other songs (The Sky is Falling, Devil's Hour), but on the whole the entire thing sounds unoriginal and half assed. Hell, repeated listens even make me wonder how catchy this even is. A lot of choruses tend to drag on forever and aren't ear catching in the slightest. C'mon, I only thought Iron Maiden could pull that off.
One thing I will say though, is that the guitar players are extremely capable, churning out blisteringly fast and intense solos every which way. It's almost like the hair bands from back in the day, you hear a really boring and simplistic riff, yet it is somehow insidiously catchy, and then from out of left field a searing solo melts your face off and then the band starts sucking again. So what this tells me in the case of Icarus Witch, is that the technical skill is there, but the songwriting skills are not yet there. I notice I claimed this album is catchy, yet at the same time boring. While this may seem like two completely opposite things, it actually manages to happen here. It's catchy like Def Leppard's Too Late is. It sucks, it's grating, but it's an ohrwurm that just refuses to go the hell away, plaguing your thoughts until it actually disrupts your sleeping pattern. Y'all know what I'm trying to say, it's catchy, but really bad.
Now, this isn't even close to the lowest score I've given out, so there is obviously some redeeming qualities. As previously stated, some of the songs are catchy in a good way, and some of the riffs are solid. But, as the score indicates, they are few and far between and most of the record is insipid and lifeless. There's very little magic to be found here, but magic is there nonetheless. With some refinement, I feel Icarus Witch could easily be a top tier traditional metal band, but until then, we have this.
I'll say, this can be considered somewhat of a guilty pleasure of mine... but not so much "guilty" like "whoops, I feel like a bit of a dick because I farted in a fancy restaurant and blamed it on my girlfriend". No, this is "guilty" on par with "oh shit, I got drunk and accidentally ran my truck over a group of preschoolers", the kind of guilt that ends marriages, the kind of guilt that would prompt one to leap from their high rise apartment onto the comforting cushion of concrete. I really dislike this album, yet I find myself spinning Written in the Stars every now and again... it's bizarre.
Try it out if you don't mind arena rock, but don't expect a fresh take on the style. Innovation isn't a necessity, and this isn't as unoriginal as Stormwarrior, but at least Stormwarrior pull it all off with a flair and conviction that really makes a band. Songs for the Lost is a very bland record with few redeeming factors, I'd advise to stay away from it.
Third time is the charm. Icarus Witch blew me away with their debut EP Roses On White Lace, but despite some really good songs, their debut full-length Capture The Magic was not as good as I was hoping, and didn't quite catch fire. Finally, with surprisingly little fanfare, Icarus Witch have released a killer disc that lives up to their promise with their second full-length Songs For The Lost. Lineup changes have plagued this band, but they keep on forging themselves into a first-rate classic metal machine.
This is a heavier and darker album than Capture The Magic, with a harder-edged guitar sound and darker riffs. IW's signature broodingly mystical lyrics are in fine form, and songs like "The Sky Is Falling", "Queen Of Lies" and "Devil's Hour" are among their strongest tunes to date. Again there is not a whole lot of tempo variation between songs, and Icarus Witch never really speed up and kick your ass, nor slow way down and play doomier. They march along at their accustomed midpace, but this time it's less noticeable for some reason, and the album as a whole has a livelier feel. Part of that is the break delivered by the Def Leppard cover "Mirror, Mirror", which suits their style very well, and shows that DL used to be able to write real songs. The performances are spot on, especially the sharp guitar work of Steve Pollick and the always-charismatic vocals of wailer Matt Bizilia. I also have to note the greater prominence given to Jason Myers bass playing in the mix, giving this a much groovier, Sabbathy feel.
I have been waiting for this band to produce their masterwork, which I believe they are yet to do, but Songs For The Lost is a killer disc nevertheless, and fans of the band's previous works should know this is their best yet. Any fan of classic Heavy Metal should get this without hesitation. If they keep getting better like this, then Icarus Witch will be a name to conjure with. Highly Recommended.
Originally written for www.metalcrypt.com
The biggest difference between Icarus Witch's latest album Songs for the Lost and their first and previous one, 2005's Capture the Magic, simply put, is the fact that their balls have shrunk a bit. If Capture the Magic gave them a place next to the kings of this nice little throwback movement (Slough Feg, Bible of the Devil, Hammers of Misfortune), this new album produced again by Eric Klinger of Pro-Pain fame is closer to AOR than before. You know, the kind of album that gets full marks on melodicrock.com. The melodies, choruses, the grooves that want to be all stadium, the guitar riffs that are a little more timid in the mix and the snare with more reverb, 80s style. Take the following for further proof. Capture the Magic saw this band covering the Rhoads/Daisley penned S.A.T.O featuring the guitar hero George Lynch. This album sees them covering Mirror Mirror (from Def Leppard's early hard rocking moment, High n Dry) featuring the AOR king Joleen Turner. There's even a full fledged acoustic ballad called Smoke & Mirrors at the fag end of the album with a female vocalist guesting.
Mathew Bizilia on vocals is good and I will not deny that. He sounds like Geddy Lee singing for an NWOBHM band but the problem is, his lines are very low on energy and attitude even though the melodies make up for it more often than not. He hasn't changed much since the first album though. Just that in this setting, maybe a little more bombastic and energetic sounding singer would've made this album work more than him.
Steve Pollick still pulls off some good rhythm guitars within the confined pool that he draws his ideas from but it's the leads and the harmonies along with Jason Myers' old school bass playing that make this album click. Songs like the album opener Out for Blood, Nature of the Beast, Devil's Hour, House of Usher (arguably the heaviest of the album), the aforementioned cover of Mirror Mirror work for me and the rest of the album isn't bad either.
This second album is a bit of a slump or an evolution depending on where you come from. I'm going to give it 65, feel free to give it another 5 or maybe 10 if you dig 80s arena rock more than I do. Nothing more.