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When Witchery first arrived on the scene, formed from the 'ashes' of Seance and Satanic Slaughter, I was truly blown away, for their debut Restless & Dead marks one of the very best of the retro thrash metal efforts. It is exciting, entirely memorable and delivers a finely honed blackened edge to its thrash/speed/heavy metal influences, in particular the German sect of cult thrash gods such as Sodom and Destruction. It's a phenomenal album which has rarely been equaled or surpassed, not even by its own follow-ups which have gotten progressively weaker in each iteration. It's also a lot better than any of the works from its members' previous bands (as well as Patrik Jensen's other riff vehicle The Haunted).
But let's stick with Restless & Dead, shall we? "The Reaper" doesn't simply burst out of the starting gates, it pulls down the entire stadium as it fires up. This is quite possibly one of the best first tracks on any metal album, ever. It thrusts along with a furious thrashing pace, Toxine's vocals dripping their pure venom across some pretty kickass lyrics. Yeah, you might think snarls of 'the reaper reaper reaper comin' to get ya!' are pretty hack, but in the context of this song they are maddeningly awesome. The riffs are some of Jensen's best written, in particular the great bridge before the final chorus of the song. Sparse and filthy leads also adorn this gem. Challenge to all 'retro' thrash/speed metal bands: let's hear you write a song like this!
"The Reaper" would be enough to satisfy any non-poseur in the universe, but fortunately Witchery saw fit to hook us up with the rest of the album too. The band's namesake "Witchery" has a killer, caustic groove hook which alternates into brutal classic speed metal verse and an intense volley of chords for its brief choral bridge. "Midnight at the Graveyard" begins with nice samples of rain and a tolling bell as it fuels up its incredible thrashing might. "The Hangman" is a slower tune with some excellent Mercyful Fate influence (a band bassist Sharlee D'Angelo has also played in). "Awaiting the Exorcist" is an glorious, driving track with some killer vocals and burning leads. Insanely riffy. So you've already got an incredibly worthwhile album and you're only halfway through. The rest is pure thrash poetry. "House of Raining Blood" is a slower, moodier track with a creepy old school horror theme. "Born in the Night" lets the cut of its bladed axes begin before picking up with a beat, this one has a thrash/power metal crossover feel which is highly effective. "Into Purgatory" is yet another mandatory riff slugfest, and the final, title track is nearly as intense as "The Reaper". Did I mention I loved the lyrics on this record, as simple as they were?
You just don't hear an album this well-crafted every day. It retains its level of excitement even now, with a bold production. I've often felt Toxine's snarls were a little too low in the mix of some songs, in particular on the followup Dead, Hot and Ready. This is not the case here, as they are perfect. The riffs conjured up here by Jensen & Co. are molten fucking hot, the band truly had a grasp on what made their influences so strong and channel it forth into an album that is effective and fun. It is a shame they've never been able to rival what transpired on this disc. Dead, Hot and Ready is still pretty good but nowhere near as catchy in my opinion.
Thrash until death! And do it to this album.
OK, pick up your average Witchery CD and forget all the stigma around it: it's not Bathory, it's not Merciful Fate, and it's not Venom. What it IS however is a nod to the above unholy trinity; what's to be found here is a thrashy (at times) nod to first wave of black metal, before corpsepaint and church burnings turned the genre into self parody.
The album kicks of with "The Reaper" (possibly a nod to the Bathory track of the same name?), my favorite cut off of the album. It's a speedy burner, in and out; the first minute of the song alone contains the better part of two verses, two choruses and one solo. Not that it's hyperfast in the grind sense, but structurally, things really zip along. The song even features a miniture thrash break at 1:34 which lasts for exactly 2 seconds before returning to the verse ... and dual bass rape is saved untill the closing seconds of the song. Nice.
I guess is Maiden, Motorhead and Black Sabbath did it, Witchery had to as well; "Witchery" is a more speed metal oriented track, with a fun shout along chorus. More dual bass, not a hell of a lot, and a nice slower mid section to give the track some contrast. A fun track.
"Midnight at the Graveyard" is a little more slower and atmospheric; not bad, not stellar either, but definatly EVIL. Yeah, it's totally corny, but you know what, it works. These guys have totally captured the orignal evil atmosphere of those original Fate/Bathory records and put it into a thrash/speed metal context. Which is a good thing.
"The Hangman" burns along at an impressive pace, as does "Awaiting the Exorcist" and "All Evil"; however at midpoint this album starts to sag a bit in the creativity department. Mind you, none of this stuff is bad, it's just not totally face re-arranging like, oh, I don't know, Sodom.
"The House of Raining Blood" provides some contrast to the speedier songs; this one is a bit slower, more tempered and definatley evil. There's a nice atmospheric opening, some great creepy lyrics and some nice growling backing vocals. Winnar.
"Into Purgatory" is another (surprise) speed metal burner, quite enjoyable, which unfortunatly leads into the low point of the album: "Born In the Night". Some people can't believe that Jensen actually plays in this band and the craptacular The Haunted; the just don't see the connection. Well, this song illustrates the connection quite clearly, this is boring midpaced gothernburg shit.. You wait two minutes for the fucking vocals to come in, and when they do it's so repitative that you end up skipping the track anyways. This track would have been a whole fuckload more enjoyable if the song kicked into high gear after 1:07, which featured a rather nice build. Instead the band pulled a total Voi Vod, building up to what could have been a thrashtastic crescndo and then dropping back into the seas of repatition and mediocrity. Neeeeeeext.
"Restless & Dead" is the other total highlight of the album, what a nice thrasher! Simple but effective riff starts off, and then the drums drop in like a friggin atomic bomb: oh yes, das ist kreig. Fun shout along chorus, man this song must fucking own live. Nice crushing thrash break in the middle, you just don't see it enough these days. You can tell these boys spent some time listening to their Sodom albums before this track. Nice way to close the album.
To be honest, I'd rather listen to the bands that influences this record (Bathory, the Fate, early Slayer and Sodom), but you know what, for a band featuring members of The Haunted, this is pretty fucking good stuff right here.a
This was the first Witchery disc I heard and it still edges out their other releases for me. I checked out these guys when they were supposed to be on the "Metallenium" tour that was canceled as a result of the 9/11 attacks back in 2001.
What I love about Witchery is the straightforward asskicking approach they take in their songwriting. There is no bullshit wankery or filler on any of their albums, they just punish from start to finish. This is the work of the riffmaster general Patrik Jensen. Unlike The Haunted, however, there is no pussy gothenfucked influence to be found in Witchery's sound.
The music could be described best as a thrashy "Graveyard" metal. The content and lyrics are fairly boring and generic, and the songs are fast paced thrash style riffs with some damn good soloing provided by Richard Corpse.
Highlights on this disc for me are the title track, All Evil (with it's kickass solo), and the two slow destroyers- The Hangman and House of Raining Blood.
Toxine's vocals are well done on this album, he puts forth a scratchy howl from beyond that fits the material perfectly.
The drumming from Mique is also top notch here, if nothing innovative or mindblowing. Sharlee D'Angelo delivers solid basslines as always.
This is an excellent debut from a consistent band that should be listened to if you haven't heard them.