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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/)