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Primordial prayers and liquid rock. - 70%

hells_unicorn, April 22nd, 2019
Written based on this version: 1982, 12" vinyl, Fingerprint Records (Reissue)

While there is a clear case to be made that the NWOBHM was a style unto itself that can be made distinct from other adherents of traditional heavy metal due to its closer affinity with 70s rock, there is one glaring flaw in the name, and that is its implied national exclusivity. Granted, it goes without saying that any band that traces its origins back to the late 70s is going to have a close proximity to the hard rock paradigm, but a fair number of bands outside of the U.K. could be qualified as in the same style due to parallel influences being expressed in the same way. Case and point, the early 80s Swedish outfit Axe Witch, which goes back to '79 under the alternate name of Hazy and features a quintet of musicians who were never involved in any other bands within the metallic spectrum. Their formative output could best be described as rock music being played too loud to actually be rock, and despite their earliest demo containing a cover of Judas Priest's "Beyond The Realms Of Death", don't prove to be quite as dynamic and speed happy as said British icons.

Featuring a topless amazon with golden hair hanging down to her knees, before a candle-lit altar while standing on ground covered in flames, this outfit's debut Pray For Metal has all of the makings of an early twin of Manilla Road, if visuals are any indication. However, the impact factor is notably restrained by even the standards of 1982, only occasionally showing glimmers of that proto-thrashing riff work that Diamond Head and Sweet Savage put forth a year or two prior despite having a fairly meaty sound. There are some hints of brilliance in the guitar work, much of it relegated to the swift-paced cruiser "Heavy Revolution" and the occasionally galloping mid-paced crusher "In The End Of The World", showcasing the best performances of every instrumentalist in attendance, but particularly the rhythm section. It's otherwise all along the lines of a mid-paced rocking affair, and the somewhat bellowing baritone voice of Anders Wallentoft plays into this fairly well, though his performance comes off as a bit clumsy and off-pitch at times, sort of like a middle ground between a trained singer and a drunken patron at a bar doing Karaoke.

It wouldn't be much of a stretch to assume that much of this material was written prior to 1981, as it functions more as an extension out of the late 70s rock sound than a trailblazing album after the heart of something by Angel Witch or Blitzkrieg. There is definitely a punch factor that works for this band, but this feels like it's a couple years behind the curve and doesn't quite manage to deliver the caliber of hooks or riff work to make it work as a derivative outing. It has more of a demo when looking at the quality of performance, though the guitar sound is notably stronger and clearer than what one might have heard out of an early demo out of a typical early 80s NWOBHM/heavy metal outfit. It's more of a historical curiosity than a full on classic, though the heightened interest in music of this style at present due to the ascendancy of what many come to call the New Wave Of Traditional Heavy Metal, the Polish-based Skol Records did a 2019 reissue with both the 1982 and 06 demos, and a sizable collection of unreleased live performances from the mid-80s. It's a feast for those who devour all things old school like candy, but more of an occasional snack for everyone else.

Very underrated - 95%

SleepingFinger, July 25th, 2010

This Swedish heavy metal band seems to have fallen into obscurity in the midst of the 80's metal scene, so it's pretty amazing that they're still around. They seem to be a pretty talented bunch, and they have some very cool album art. They seem to have somewhat of a medieval theme going for them. Axe Witch is definitely very good at what they do, so it surprises me how little known they are.

The music sounds like a mixture of 80's style heavy metal and 70's style heavy metal. Not too surprising considering that this was released in 1982, the 80's were just kicking in. The production is pretty good and everything sounds fine. I think the guitarist and drummer are really in sync with each other and they make a great duo. The singer is very good, there's not much high singing on this record either. The singing is mid range, so there isn't really a lot of deep singing either. His vocals really fit the feel of the music though. The drumming is good and always fits in with the pace of the music, it's slow when it should be and fast when it should be. The bass isn't really audible, that's quite unfortunate though. The music here isn't very heavy but for 1982 it's good enough.

The songs are all good and they are performed very well. The 70's metal influence is noticeable on the slightly bluesy "Born In A Hell", and the more rockish "Heavy Revolution. They both remind me a little bit of late 70's Judas Priest, sometimes even "Heaven And Hell" era Black Sabbath. "In The End Of The World" Kicks off with a siren and is a mid paced, 80's sounding metal song with some cool soloing in the middle, it still maintains a slight 70's element though. But there is one upbeat, melodic song on here. My favorite song here,"Death Angel". There's no 70's metal to be found here, just fast paced 80's metal with great guitar work and a mellow, catchy chorus. Not much different than many NWOBHM songs.

I would definitely advise any metalhead to pick this one up. Especially fans of NWOBHM bands, this fits right in with those type of bands. I don't know how common of a find this EP is, but if you can find it then do yourself a favor and get it. If you want some good old fashioned heavy metal, look no further than Axe Witch.

Sometimes more like prey for metal - 65%

Gutterscream, September 21st, 2007
Written based on this version: 1982, 12" vinyl, Independent (Colored vinyl, Limited edition)

Sometimes sounding like produced and heavy late '70s rock that’s forded the river to the next decade, Axe Witch (or Axewitch) is another early Swedish export pretty much drowned by time despite four or five releases under their nwo?hm-fastened belt. It’s a score of tradition going on here obviously and even though it’s quite clear where the band’s sonic roots lie, they try to quell our fears with ‘guaranteed no synthesizers or overdubs’ on this disc, and for best quality to ‘play this record real loud!’, because in ’82 we had to be reminded of this, I guess. Well, as an early teen I barely knew what the hell was going on out there, but even graced with such a confidently metal-imposed title and crowning achievement eleventh grade art, there was still this sinking feeling, this ‘gawd, I hope they don’t sound like The Rods' dread that kept Pray for Metal at arm’s distance. Everyone seems to be having a delightful time in the back cover shots, apparently pleased with this four-tracker despite dishing out the moolah for it themselves, save bassist Tommy Brage that is, who glares at us almost as seriously as a neglected tetanus shot.

But these tunes aren’t half bad (and consequently are only about half good). Found shifting a drive train like a marginally sloppier, restrained More, the five-piece at times struggle to get out of their own way like in crunchy “Born in a Hell” (found later on their Visions of the Past lp as well), “Heavy Revolution”, and “In the End of the World”, a song that with an air raid siren literally warns us right off the bat how droll most of it is, though sometimes can be heard galloping around the stable (diminutive tracts from “In the End of the World” and final track “Death Angel”, easily the one with the most get up n’ go). Singer Anders Wallentoft sounds flat and weary, like he just woke up with hangover intact, and aside from his slightly bubblier performance in “Death Angel”, is the real party pooper here, but a lot of these rhythms putter annoyingly under the speed limit in unpersuasive lanes.

Alas, there was more hair-raising stuff coming out in ’82, including More, fellow Swedsters Heavy Load, UK’s Legend, and Under the friggin’ Blade, though most of us had far better chances finding Mob Rules, Speak of the Devil, For Those About to Rock, and, um, Diver Down.

Next year’s follow-up is only a little bit better.