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Bored of the Rings? - 62%

Acrobat, June 13th, 2018
Written based on this version: 1992, CD, Steamhammer

This album exists in an odd place in Stormwitch’s career; it’s the first album outside of their classic line-up and yet it’s also something of a partial return to normality after the watery, wimpy Eye of the Storm (wherein the band dropped their gothic sound and embraced… late 80’s cheese, instead). While this album is distinguished from 80’s Stormwitch – it’s also not so far removed that I can’t see it as without its own charms. So, I can recommend this more than its immediate predecessor and follow-up. That said, however, this is definitely not a starting point for a neophyte but rather a somewhat decent album in a different vein. Newbies are strongly advised to pick up any of the band’s first four albums (hell, all of them!) instead of this.

Aside from the departure of the band’s two excellent guitarists, the biggest disappointment for me is that lack of a gothic atmosphere here. While a fantasy concept about Tolkien was slightly less clichéd in 1992 than it would be today, it’s just not my Stormwitch. I mean, where are the ravens? Where are the rustic countryside villages wherein the locals live in the ominous and dreadful shadow of witchcraft? Where are the sickly noblemen who make deals with the devil and reap their horrid fate as death draws near? Tolkien is fine – I don’t love him, though – but Stormwitch were much better at dealing with Poe and Stoker. The story, of course, affects the overall mood; War of the Wizards is a much more jovial, optimistic album than the Stormwitch of old. No more stormy seas and harrowing spells… but rather pastoral landscapes and little creatures with a heavy burden to carry. I suppose it’s once more worthy of note that here Stormwitch once again are the “bridesmaids” but not the brides as Blind Guardian had already stolen their thunder when it came to LOTR metal (their ‘Lord of the Rings’ predates this by two years), just as Running Wild had done earlier with their shared pirate themes.

Despite my grumbling this is by no means a bad album and certainly there are a few songs to revel in here for any Stormwitch fan. ‘Listen to the Stories’ is appropriately rousing and, musically, it would fit right in on The Beauty and the Beast. Andy Muck still sounds utterly charming when in character here; that was always his biggest strength – capturing a mood and a persona. Here he’s joyous and spirited rather than afflicted and haunted, but his performance is still a strong one.

Given the new instrumentalists I find they try riffs that occasionally “break the spell” of Stormwitch; they’re uncharacteristic of the band and, as such, tend to hinder bands. At certain points, I feel like I could be listening to any number of late 80s/early 90s bands rather than one of the most distinctive voices in German metal. ‘Theja’ runs this particular gauntlet – generic riffs that are somewhat faceless in comparison to the band’s earlier work. Hell, even the chorus takes on a weird ‘God Gave Rock ‘n’ Roll to You’ tone.

Another problem would be the overreliance on a stomping, crunching mid-pace. Whereas this often provided some of Stormwitch’s most gripping moments (‘Eternia’!) here they tend to plod a bit. Let’s take ‘Magic Mirror’ for example, it’s not bad by any means but just a bit “Haven’t we heard this before on one of Dio’s less engaging albums in the early 90s?”. It sounds a fair bit like Dio’s ‘running out of steam era’ on, say, his Lock up the Wolves. Needless to say that is a recurrent problem here; a feeling of “Am I listening to an alright Saxon album? Am I listening to Dio without the fire?” It’s a blight on that album. Furthermore, that 80’s rock influence that plagued Eye of the Storm, whilst lessened, is not truly gone. Some songs do still sound like they should be accompanied by Andy, wearing a hair band, gyrating towards the camera suggestively whilst wearing clothing that makes him seem like some heavy metal refugee, clothed in Biff Byford’s cast offs from the German leg of the Solid Ball of Rock tour. That said, ‘Dragon’s Day’ is a real winner for the mid-paced stuff; classy riffs and a nice swing to it (even if the said swing is stunted by clunky drum production).

I dunno, this album is deeply affected by my love for this band’s earlier work; I can get lost in their spectral wonder for hours whereas in this the spell cast is a weaker one. It seems the band are trying to pull off a lot of their old tricks here but they’re only partially successful. Ballads have ‘off’ melodies, anthems are less anthemic, themes are less engrossing. This ain’t bad… far from it, but just use this review as a public service announcement: early Stormwitch is fucking brilliant! Seek it out!