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The seventh full-length from German black/thrashers Witchburner, “Bloodthirsty Eyes,” is one of the more impressive showings in their catalog with the band honing their sound into a more cohesive and explosive format than they’ve previously accomplished.
As the band has been developing for awhile, the style on display is punk-laced black metal played with thrash-like speed and pacing, which makes for an intense experience. The riffing is top-notch here and the most imposing factor here, with the band firing away with a series of well-written-if-simplistic riffs that sound straight from the cauldron of the late 80s Germany where the band takes its influence from. Alternating between fast tempos with little variation between the songs that is again another big factor in their music on display here again, and the band has noticeably dropped the dirty sound in their guitars from their early days to include more of a straight-forward thrash approach. The band’s style of playing a punk-fueled brand of thrash, with simplistic rhythms and patterns in the riffs, that are given a touch of darkness within to capture an aura of more straightforward black metal is given a much tighter feeling with the songs all kept in check from veering all over the place as the band had a tendency to do in the past and simply stay straight on the course much better than before with this strong collection of tracks.
While there’s not a big input on the black metal beyond the rasping vocals, the one of the albums’ better virtues is the fact that the tracks manage to conjure an image of darkness and evil the way that true black metal bands are able to accomplish. The ability to mix all three styles as expertly as they do is a major accomplishment and speaks well to the strength of the songwriting where punk, black and thrash metal all merge together in a cohesive format. There’s never a sense of one style dominating the other on select tracks as well, instead with sections of the songs generating more of a punk-feel than others while others are just straight-up thrash, and all are done with the mixture in full effect being propelled by furious drumming and a charging, intense attitude.
The songs themselves aren’t all that varied at all and really could be mixed together in the running list without hurting the flow of the album, but that’s not to say there’s a lack of quality in the music. Opener ‘Sermon of Profanity’ contains a haunting acoustic intro that gives way to a blazing mid-tempo blackened thrasher without a lot of punk influences and starts it off on a high-note. By comparison, ‘Possession,’ ‘Apocalyptic Visions,’ the title track, ‘Spirit of the Dead’ or ‘The Bringer of Disease’ are all blazing and intense thrashers with punk-like speed with plenty of straight-up thrashing riffs that are just outright vicious, while the tightened riffing of ‘Never Surrender’ provides the first hints of blackened thrash in the breakdowns with intense soloing and a full-throttle pace. ‘Master and Slave’ is a mid-tempo chug based around completely uninteresting main riff that serves as the lone weak track amongst the effort, while ‘Path of the Sinner’ is another explosive mixture of punk and thrash with high-speed drumming that remains pretty enjoyable overall.
While the band isn’t really doing anything new in terms of songwriting or inventiveness with their riffing, a tightened attack and plenty of vicious riffing are more than enough to compensate here with their best album thus far. Still laced with that punk-like intensity and infernal black metal riffing, it’s an infectious time and generally hits more than it misses here with only one really bad track and many that are among their best yet. While the band is an easy target for those looking at the pure worship of the German thrash scene in the 80s and dismissing them entirely due to that nature, it’s still among the better efforts at aping that style and is generally worth a look for those that aren’t able to put down their Kreator and Sodom records and looking for something new or to those looking for an infernal blackened thrash metal group.
Witchburner's the kind of band I've always really wanted to like more than I do; in no small part due to the sort of aesthetics they bring to the table, a very down to earth retrospective of what made the nastier side of speed and thrash metal so hellishly fresh in the mid through late 80s. Granted, they've only had a few full-lengths that were above average (in particular Incarnation of Evil was a standout), and none that were exemplary, but in a world where newer, comparable German bands like Ketzer, Nocturnal and Cruel Force are receiving solid underground recognition, I think it is important that this band, who formed in fucking 1992 and have seven albums under their belt, get a little more credit for always bringing that blackened, death-driven thrash and speed metal...
That said, the music Witchburner writes in of itself is not all that unique. Combine the crisp mid 80s Reign in Blood guitar tone with Possessed vocals, and season liberally with lyrical themes and imagery redolent of Venom, Piledriver, Sodom, Destruction, Kreator, Bulldozer, Infernal Majesty, and Hobbs' Angel of Death not to mention the elephant in the room I already hinted at. The Germans' quickened clips of high velocity old school reek of Hell Awaits or Reign in Blood, only they feel less explosive by virtue that we've already been exposed to similar for decades. I'd actually posit that a number of the note progressions here feel so generic and tired that they should have been left off the album entirely, like the descending tremolo pattern after 1:30 in "Path of the Sinner", brings nothing new to the table to the extent that it actually cracks the table in half with age. Throughout Bloodthirsty Eyes, the leads are usually the same atonal rabble that was so popular in the 80s, only none of them really scream out at you. Bass is pumping and deep, but the lines rarely do anything so interesting, and the drum beats are fairly stock, the one thing that might separate them from their forebears would be the more even double kick hammering.
Witchburner has a new vocalist here, one Pino Hecker, who replaces Metallic Mayhem with a set of Jeff Becera pipes. Seriously, if Jeff suddenly wanted to revert to bass, this guy could serve as a stand in for the original with ease. On the one hand, those who love the style will be ecstatic, but while I do like the way Hecker's inflection bludgeons and resonates over the brisk, flighty trails of the guitars, it does grow a fraction monotonous at times, and the more seclusive snarls and growls don't really compensate. But if the band had been composing some top notch material here, it would come together like napalm gel and an unsuspecting village. Sadly, that's just not the case. I've got a natural attraction to this style, which is slightly more death/ thrash than black/thrash, but though the songs here move along with an acceptable confidence, too few of the riffs stand out from the writhing mass. Addicts of acts like Deathhammer, Aura Noir, Antichrist and the three German bands I rattled off in the top paragraph would find themselves in familiar territory here, which is enough to provide a cursory, visceral enjoyment of the album, but little more. Not bad, but not as good as their last disc Demons (from 2010) or Incarnation of Evil.