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Witchery. Probably the reason that my tastes in heavy metal have developed into heavier and more expansive circles, I have to say that there's still not much that can beat these guys on a good day. I used to listen to this album and 'Restless & Dead' when I was pissed off at the world, when I wanted to get excited, or when I wanted to do whatever I was doing at twice the speed. These guys made fucking fantastic heavy metal back at their inception and, despite losing some steam this side of the millenium, they are still a force to be reckoned with, as the defiantly modern 'Witchkrieg' affirmed five years ago. (It's been a long time guys...)
I rate 'Restless & Dead' as probably one of my top 10 albums ever, so how does 'Dead, Hot and Ready' stack up alongside it? Naturally, it can't quite keep pace with it (though I'd argue there's more of a speed fetish here), but it still comes in as a thoroughly entertaining listen that can leave your arse black and blue once it's done with you. The slight drop in quality from the first full-length is the result of a shift in a slightly more aggressive direction, which makes the album fly by in barely half an hour, but shaves the edges off the amazing songwriting skills that the band previously possessed. However, we're still in the realms of icy speed/thrash that pays tribute to bands like Judas Priest, Kreator, Venom, Running Wild, Accept, and Mercyful Fate, the latter especially in the distinctive atmosphere that Witchery seem capable of producing even at fast pace, due to the chords in the riffs and the mesmerizingly graceful solos that Richard Corpse produces seemingly without effort. The great thing about Witchery is that you might well spot all of those influences even on first listen, but you won't begrudge the Swedes using any of their trademark parts, seeing as the cocktail is so potent you won't be able to concentrate on anything except banging your head and gargling the lyrics along with Toxine.
For an album that aims so directly for the heart, 'Dead, Hot and Ready' never makes you feel like you are being undersold. There are four songs here that do their damage before they even see the dawn of the 3 minute mark, while 'Resurrection' is alone in sticking its grisly head into the midday sun of a 4 minute length, so quality is certainly the objective, not quantity. (And perhaps the band just wanted a 33:33 running time to round off the whole tongue-in-cheek Satanic image.) This means that the band must use their assembled songwriting talents (we have members and ex-members of Arch Enemy, Mercyful Fate, Seance, Satanic Slaughter, and The Haunted here) to keep discipline, stripping each song down to its bones and then allowing Toxine to putrify the storming speed with his raw voice and Richard Corpse to savage or finesse the piece to perfection. The shorter songs especially are triumphant examples of economy in songwriting, flitting deftly through fairly conventional structures with all the savagery and hooky aggression of early At the Gates, though with purer, more traditional riffs.
Those riffs don't quite add up to the godly total found on 'Restless & Dead', but if anyone's counting it's got to be close. There are some absolute fucking monsters on here, such as almost everything on the shitstorming 'Call of the Coven', the instantly memorable opening of 'Full Moon', or the bulldozing groove shifts of 'Resurrection'. Picking favourites is comparable to choosing which family member you would prefer to kill first, but I would have to single out the murderous time change in 'The Guillotine' as a moment when everything comes together and I begin to dirty my pants. Some of the songs are clearly ahead of others in terms of memorability, with 'Full Moon' almost taking the crown of being Witchery's anthem away from the band-titled song from the debut (atmopshere, riffs, and fun), 'Call of the Coven' causing absolute thrashing chaos towards the end of the album (try keeping your leg still for that one), and 'Demonication' proving the best of the shorter songs, with its fiery pace and intensity. Disappointments are not in abundance, though the two songs that notably take their feet off the gas and head for more classic territory ('A Paler Shade of Death' and 'The Devil and the Damage Done') don't quite match up with viciousness or hooks, while 'On a Black Horse Thru Hell...' is a necessarily different closer, yet abandons Witchery's greatest strengths in a quest for a conclusion to the madness.
There have been a few comments that Witchery's lyrics lack the necessary seriousness to round off the experience. I would like to go on record as saying that, if you pay attention to the lyrics while you listen to this album, you're listening to the wrong band - Witchery aren't about investing in a philosophy, they are about giving you serious spinal damage as you hurl yourself around the room. Come for the viciously crunchy and hooky guitars, come for the grittily rumbling speed-fueled bass, come for the relentless foot-tapping drumming, come for the soaring explosions of lead guitar brilliance; even come for Toxine's throat-shredding barks, but if you came for the lyrics - fuck off. Because you should be left speechless by the ferocity and tightness of 'Dead, Hot and Ready'.
I should probably blame myself for holding expectations so high for Witchery's follow up to the startling Restless & Dead debut, but it becomes immediate on the first playthrough of its 'sequel' that much of that effort's sheer, blissful scything rapture has been spent on the band, and I was merely going to have to settle for an album that was 'very good' as opposed to perfect. The weaponry is much the same, the five members from the debut and the Witchburner EP all return to their positions, but I got the feeling some of the truly classic tones the band covered via Judas Priest or Accept have rubbed off here. Dead, Hot & Ready is still a righteously savage affair, but the writing feels slightly more laid back. It takes a breath in between each upskirt thrust in the morgue late at night, and when all is said and done, necrolust spent in blasphemous passion, it comes out a winner all the same.
First, there is really no song here to match "The Reaper", which is pretty much the best damned black/thrash track ever written. Witchery tries to match it with the opener "Demonication", which races along at the same crashing pace as that fateful debut, but aside from its descending, quickly meted chorus bridge, the bluesy NWOBHM-inflected thrashing is simply not as vicious or vicarious. Other violations of velocity here include "On a Black Horse Thru Hell", which hammers along with abandon and sprinkles a sheen of mystique before its muscle pumping, lithe grooves in the bridge; "Call of the Coven", a very Destruction-like piston of violence that is probably the best of the fastest paced tracks on Dead, Hot & Ready; and "The Guillotine", which feels like a very ramped up sequel to the band's cover of "Fast as a Shark", Toxiene spewing some relentless death growls across his feline black rasp. The title track is also fast, hungry, and cruel, charging ahead at full bore. The little chugging breakdown is not enough to rein in the savage speed, but I love the eerie sequence with the muted guitars and spoken word before the close.
No, the album truly relies on its mid-paced material to woo the moon-bathed garden of graves in which it restlessly dwells, and here it excels with some venomous lechery like "Full Moon", with a mighty, savage Priest-like axe rhythm that seriously makes the listener feel as if he were caught like a deer in the headlights of some lycanthropic blood-hunt, his scent fresh on the trail as the furred aberrations come howling through the midnight sun. Great bridge with pumping bass and melodic guitars, killer breakdown thrash riff. "Resurrection" is another fist pumper that thrashes at a pretty middle pace, but it features some excellent classic heavy metal riffing in there that was clearly inspired by the greats (Dio-era Black Sabbath, plus a fuck ton of other, cruising NWOBHM). But don't fret, it features some of those patented, thick Jensen mosh rhythms to break up the tinge of rusted steel. "A Paler Shade of Death" is another of the album's best, opening like "Among the Living", then asserting a thunderous, down-trodden spike to its brooding riffs and a great lead segment. "The Devil and the Damage Done" is barbaric, with some grisly rolling double bass and another of the descending metal licks akin to that in "Demonication", only this time housed in a far more suitable environment of ghastly, skeletal grave turning rhythms.
'It's time to go, welcome to my home
You scream my name, I´ll dress you up in flames
You sold your soul, this is what you bought
I hope you like it 'cause I’ve heard it’s rather hot!'
I certainly can't think any fan of Restless & Dead would be ultimately disappointed by what the band has on offer here, even if it's a little less grabby in most places. The musical matrix of Jensen, Corpse, D'Angelo and Mique is possibly tighter than the debut, and thus they are able to explore a slightly wider foundation of sound. The leads are almost always well written, and the actual production of the record is dark and timeless, like the pitch night sepulchers in which the band's morbid and hilarious fantasies play out. Toxiene is as ever an adequate vocalist, and I feel with Dead, Hot & Ready he's a little more expressive than the previous album. If this sophomore suffers anything, it's a slight case of redundancy, since the band had blazed such an intricate path of carnage already, and several of the tracks here feel like crafty re-writes of their existing songs. But if you already worshiped at the corpse of the debut such as I, you will be straining your spine and thrashing your neck rather than dwelling on the fact.
This band keeps getting better. Jensen can do no wrong, far as I can tell. Witchery, on their second full-length, bring you more thrash fucking metal with black metal styled vocals and plenty of Mercyful Fate-esque headbanging melodies in their thrash (hard to explain, but if you've heard MF's first album you know what I'm talking about). The lyrics are also pure Mercyful Fate, not that these guys worship MF at all, they sound worlds apart, but the content is similarly horror-themed ("Call of the Coven", "On a Black Horse Thru Hell", etc). Opener "Demonication" is a thrash attack with an oddly timed riff that works really well and is still damn catchy, reminding you this isn't just any thrash band! A personal favorite of mine is track 3, "The Guillotine", which I insist is one of the greatest riffs of all time. Somewhat technical, downright evil, and pure fucking metal. Once you hear it, the horns go straight up (or the W, as the band seems to prefer in the photo behind the cd tray). An intense and thrashtastic album to blast and headbang with, and the best part is they never take themselves too seriously so cheesiness is not an issue (and you gotta love the hilarious cover art, featuring as usual the band's mascot Ben Wrangle). A band destined to become legendary, check them out right now. All 3 of their albums are mandatory (haven't heard the EP yet).