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Hammer of the Witches - 90%

UncleMeat, May 6th, 2009

Leave it to the mighty Nuclear War Now! Productions to uncover excellent, hidden treasures such as Witches Hammer, and to give their almost-full discography the proper vinyl treatment it deserves. ‘Stretching Into Infinity’ documents the final years of this Canadian thrash horde, compiling both the self titled 1987 MLP and a previously unreleased LP from 1988, which, due to lack of funds, did not see the light of day until this was released.

The first five songs from the aforementioned s/t MLP, and the remaining ten are from the unreleased LP. Although stylistically they are quite similar, there are some differences between the two recordings. The first thing that sticks out when comparing the two is the production. The MLP has a relatively muddy sound to it, but not to the point where you miss anything that’s going on, so it’s really not a problem. The unreleased LP however, has a more crisp and textural sound, but still has its fair share of mud and grime, plus some old good analog tape warmth that gives it that authentic 80’s sound we all love.

Ray Crude’s vocals had improved greatly since the demos, which helps a lot. They are actually quite versatile, but without falling into the trap of inconsistency. He has a great corpse-beckoning death howl that ranges from a high pitched shriek that so many thrash bands would do to accentuate the last one or two words of a verse to a mid-register bark. And no matter which style he may be utilizing at that moment, he retains the same amount of power and conviction in each one. He is also given a prominent place in the mix on both recordings but without being overpowering.

The riffs have also gotten more intricate and ripping, and considering the guitar work in Witches Hammer was great even from the start, this is saying a lot. These guys really are riff machines, continuously pumping out nothing but pure thrash metal ferocity of the highest order, applying a number of different techniques throughout, which helps in the avoidance of repetition and monotony. The bass also has a powerful place in the mix, which highlights its bottom-heavy filth tone as it follows the guitar flawlessly, note for note. And behind the wheel of this hideous beast is John E., the drummer. Like everything else, the drumming here is executed perfectly, and the precision requirements needed for ripping, brutal thrash metal are all met with no trouble at all. Every cymbal hit, tom fill, and snare whap is placed in a fashion that never loses coherency or focus.

All in all, this is an excellent compilation that really does the band justice. The vinyl pressing itself sounds great and the art and packaging to accompany it is also fantastic. The layout and overall visual aspect is totally in the old-school metal vein, but like all NWN! releases, this is achieved in such a manner that only a skillful artist/designer could piece together. It’s long out of print, but if you do happen to come by a copy, by all means pick it up. If not, at least find another way of obtaining the thrashing insanity contained herein, as it is totally worth the effort. There was also a tape released containing the band’s full discography on Bird of Ill Omen, but I’m not quite sure if it’s still available, as it was only limited to 200 copies. Good luck, and happy thrashing.