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I hadn't heard of Witchgrave until a month ago. When I was told they're a new traditional metal band I thought "oh great, another Enforcer...", looks as if I was very wrong. "Witchgrave" is as old school as it gets in 2013 that any fan of Venom is going to drool over. Keep in mind that I said Venom, you may see that a lot throughout this review.
The vocals are one hundred percent Cronos worship. Though the thing that still keeps them original is the swedish accent that is very noticable. As well, there's a few moments throughout when you start to wonder if King Diamond sings on this record, check "The Apparation". I question every time I listen to it how someone can sound so identical to someone with such a rare, distinct voice. These guys obviously have something special with that being said. The vocals sound evil and straight out of 1982.
The riffs are very speed metal and rather simplistic actually. A quite noticable punk element in some songs (Raise Hell stands out most), others strong Maiden influence (Rites of the Dead), and the rest just have a noticeable Venom style of speed metal riffs. The thing about this record is that it reaches so many different spectrums of metal genres. Traditional heavy metal, black, thrash, speed and even rock n' roll. So it's very hard to describe each thing and how it sounds, the only way to sum it is fucking evil, especially the production. One may find it absolutely impossible to believe this album was released this year. I even had a hard time coming to terms with this.
Despite all the comparisons I have made, Witchgrave are the most original band around right now. The other traditional metal bands that have come out recently all sound very similar, but these guys really stick out of the bunch. Dirty, raw production, possessed vocals, speed metal riffs, drums with a punk feel and thick bass lines. Listen and worship.
Traditional 80s-style metal has been relatively big business lately, displacing the so-called ‘thrash revival’ of a few years ago (and likely to be forgotten about just as quickly as the new bands sink or swim) in the zeitgeist as the place where things are happening.
As with any sort of movement there is a great variance in the quality of product being doled out from band to band, but generally the thing they have in common is that you know what you’re hearing straight away. It's 80s metal with 21st century production values - usually charming and most probably well-meant but at the same time often lacking that feeling of authenticity and character.
Witchgrave play things a little differently. What with the scummy cover art, the distant, reverby recording quality, the band members who look like they’ve slept in their stage clothes for 4 days and the densely packed 8-song/31-minute playing time, it would be an easy mistake to confuse this full-length debut for a forgotten 80s obscurity.
The difference is that it doesn’t feel like an intentional throwback to an older style, but more like Witchgrave have just collectively woken up from a 25 year coma in the same sweaty codpieces and are getting straight back to business.
All well and good, but how are the tunes? Well, just great, thanks. While still largely influenced by the NWOBHM, Witchgrave forego the more obvious Iron Maiden-derived route and feel most obviously like the offspring of Venom and their ilk, not least due to Joakim Norberg’s throaty, Cronos-like growls and the humorously schlocky cod-Satanic lyrics.
Generally the arrangements are very pared-down, focusing only on getting from A to B with minimal fuss by means of a storming chorus. There is still plenty of melody to be found, mostly in form of soaring guitar harmonies, but the main focus is on the scuzzy proto-thrash riffs and the relentless aggressive tempo. Some unusual moaning cleaner vocals also crop up from time to time that are more mindful of a young Tom Warrior and there is even some charmingly amateurish King Diamond aping on “The apparition”.
I suppose at the end of the day looking for differences between Witchgrave and their more polished contemporaries is splitting hairs somewhat, but for fans of more lo-fi 80s classics this debut should prove to be a grubby delight as it positively crackles with deviant energy. Cronos, Warrior, Shermann and the like haven’t been delivering the goods in these terms for many a year now, so these upstarts are as entitled as anyone to try their best to pick up the mantle.
(Originally written for http://www.metalcdratings.com/)