Witchery
Nightside

What do you call Witchery at this point in their career? A super group? A collective, ever-evolving side project (aside from guitarists Patrick Jensen and Rickard Rimfalt, the last two remaining original members)? What was once basically a catch-all side gig for former members of Seance along with legendary bassist Sharlee D’Angelo (Mercyful Fate, Arch Enemy, and a billion others), has over the years evolved and involved a carousel of band members including everyone from Marduk‘s Legion, to Opeth/Bloodbath drummer Martin Axenrot. The band’s early years saw them concocting an intoxicating mix of Thrash, Speed and Death’n’Roll that thrived in taking itself not-at-all seriously, with delightfully campy lyrical themes covering everything dark, evil and horny. But since 2001’s Symphony for the Devil, things have progressively seemed to get a little more serious with every release (or at least, as serious as you can really be with a central them surrounding all things Satan all the time), culminating in 2017’s very well-performed, but not very tongue-in-cheek I Am Legion, the second full length with Angus Norder on vocals.

I’ve heard plenty of arguments in preference to the band’s earlier albums, and their more recent body of work – and weirdly, both are completely valid. Personally, I adore sadistic, macabre fun of Restless & Dead and Dead, Hot and Ready. I could be on a beach, enjoying a refreshing ‘Gansett Del’s Shandy  (or 8) on a 103 degree Lake Champlain shoreline, and I’d instantly be transported to a graveyard on a foggy Halloween night the minute I press play on either of those albums. They are my shit. But turn to In His Infernal Majesty’s Service or I Am Legion and throw on “The Burning of Salem” or “On Blackened Night”? Absolute thrash bangers to the highest degree.

So I guess what I’m saying is, finding a happy medium would be dope as hell. And dare I say it, Nightside seems to be up to the challenge. Kinda. Maybe.

For one thing, Witchery has upped the camp factor a couple ticks. There’s a song here called “Popecrusher” for the love that all is unholy, so I’d say the band is feeling loose and ready to have some fun. The album starts in a fury with “Witching Hour” taking off like a bat out of hell with the kind of breakneck riffs and… To be totally honest, this isn’t anything you haven’t heard out of Witchery before, but there is a noticeable sense of comfort and familiarity that the band has developed having more or less a consistent lineup over the last three albums – the only difference this time being the replacement of founding bassist Sharlee D’Angelo with the more-than-capable Victor Brandt (Entombed, Firespawn). Vocalist Angus Norder especially seems to have gotten himself nice and cozy, as evident on second track “Don’t Burn The Witch,” where he turns in his most visceral, but most fun performance with the band yet. When he screaming shit like “FUCK THIS FUCKING PLACE!” and “FUCK THIS INQUISITION” and “FUCK (whatever the fuck else it is he’s saying I don’t have a lyrics sheet in front of me),” you can really feel it! He’s an angry man. This is all layered over a super punky riff that definitely brings you back to the band’s earlier work while also calling to mind the greats of Black Metal’s formative years, bringing a sort of morbidly fun energy that’s been lacking from the band over the last few albums.

If it’s the more latter-era Witchery sound you’re here for, they’ve got you covered to that end, for sure. Quick-hit transition “Under the Altar” sets out to pummel you with a series of high-velocity riffs before diving fully into “Churchburner,” a no-nonsense full-throttle burner that lays the hammer down through the first minute-and-a-half before launching into a great little Slayer-esque breakdown that stomps you down into an empty grave just in time for “Crucifix and Candle” to slow things down and use what’s left of your increasingly lifeless body to perform some some Satanic rite. Very efficient. The song has a fun, almost cocky sort of swaggering attitude with swaying, blackened heavy metal riffs that just fills you with all the power and self-confidence of Satan himself. Immediately following is another real highlight in “A Forest of Burning Coffins,” featuring some of the band’s most visceral and inspired riffs I’ve heard in a minute, and featuring some fantastic guest vocals by none other than the great Jeff Walker (Carcass) himself. The front half is a total modern-era Witchery affair, but the back half, including the awesome guitar solo, brings you right back to 1999 with a riff that would fit in just fine on Dead, Hot and Ready.

Nightside isn’t QUITE the perfect blend of old and new that I so badly want out of this band, and there’s a couple odd ducks in here that don’t quite feel like they fit (looking specifically at closer and title track “Nightside”), but overall I am pleased to see a little bit of the fun and macabre get thrown back into the mix. This current lineup appears to still be working some of the kinks out, but Satan willing, the next one is gonna find that perfect balance. But until then, Nightside has plenty going on to give fans new and old something to hold on to and be happy about.

 

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Steve K
August 1st, 2022

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