Wytch Hazel
IV: Sacrament

I’m gonna come right out and say right at the start – I agree with Hank Hill on a lot of fronts. Not all, of course – Arlen’s favorite son certainly has an irremovable stick up his ass about a lot of things that, really, are just silly. But when it comes to Christian Rock, I gotta admit, I was pretty much 100% on board with him that time he confronted a youth pastor/hard rock band front man and claimed, “Can’t you see you’re not making Christianity better? You’re just making Rock & Roll worse.”

And honestly, it doesn’t even have anything to do with my general preference towards God’s adversary, I swear! It’s just… well, have you thrown on a Christian Rock radio station before?? IT. IS. FUCKING. ATROCIOUS. And it all sounds the goddamn same! Here’s a fun game – next time you’re driving around in your car, hit “scan” on your radio and let it cycle through all the stations. I guarantee you, when it inevitably lands on that faith-based rock radio, you will know it within 2 seconds. That utterly generic, instantly recognizable, paint-by-numbers sound hits with all the excitement and passion of a beige cardigan.

Metal and hardcore, on the other hand, has had no shortage of success with the Christians. Seems like that’d be counterintuitive, right? The difference, it seems, boils down to these bands concentrating first on the music, and then adding Christian themes lyrically and aesthetically after. And that’s cool! In a world where there’s a place for super blasphemous, Satan-loving Black Metal, there’s no reason there shouldn’t be a place for the other side of that coin. Live and let live!

 

Of course, when it comes to the UK’s Wytch Hazel, I’m far from the first person to ever bring up their religious leanings. For what’s now been four albums, they’ve built a hell of an impressive following for themselves in the Proto/Traditional Metal scene, and with good reason! I’d argue the quality of musicianship they’ve shown, the catchiness of their songwriting, it’s on a level that very few in their peers can match. But what’s made their ascension in the world of Heavy Metal even more impressive is that they’ve always strode a very thin line of what you might really even consider “Heavy Metal.” One could argue – very convincingly – that Wytch Hazel is actually a Christian Rock band. *RECORD SCRATCH*

And you know what? They still rule. I’m throwing up the horns whether they like it or not.

I suspect most of you reading this review already know what you’re in for more or less on IV: Sacrament, but for those of you new to the party, Wytch Hazel is much more akin to 70s rock ala UFO and Blue Oyster Cult than they are even the early Heavy metal likes of Manilla Road or Cirith Ungol. More hard-driven riffs on the likes of “Angel of Light” or “Endless Battle” are certainly more than capable of getting a solid head bang started, but it’s really the epic, high-flying Thin Lizzy -inspired melodies and leads that are leading the way here, and goddamned if they’re not absolutely glorious. To prove the point,  you’re hit with a doozy of a lead right out the gate on “The Fire’s Control,” letting you know exactly what to expect moving forward from the get-go. Production-wise, they still certainly understand the assignment, even if, admittedly, I preferred the warmer, more full-sounding tone of III: Pentecost. The mix still very much sounds like it’s coming straight out of South London’s Ramport Studios in the late 70s, home to The Who and a place that took the likes of Thin Lizzy (Jailbreak, 1976Supertramp (Crime of the Century, 1974) and even Judas Priest (Sin After Sin, 1977) to new levels. After another monster harmonized lead from guitarists Colin Hendra and Alex Haslem to open up “Angel of Light,” the band introduces a Hammond organ into the mix which, why are they not already employing an organist full time into the band? Not only is it thematically a great fit, it just sounds fucking killer! Alas, it’s the only appearance it makes on the album. I don’t want to tell you gents how to do your job but… hire a full time organ player!

That quibble aside, the general uplifting tone of the entire album can’t help but get under your skin and compel you to keep listening. I dare you to listen to the first few licks of “Time and Doubt” and not break out into air guitar hysterics, and when the band kicks into gear and breaks into double-time, the energy is palpable, sending an extra boost directly from your ears to your feet. “A Thousand Years” is so catchy and moving that even this blackened heart can completely look past the preaching and just focus on the immaculate guitar work on display. I’m no closer to accepting Jesus into my heart, but I’ll definitely catch his next gig!

While the majority of this album certainly feels more euphoric and joyous, Sacrament certainly does take on a bit of a darker edge toward the back end of the album, particularly after the instrumental break on “Gold Light. Like a faithful crusader accepting their fate on the battlefield, “Endless Battle,” “Future is Gold” and “Diggin Deeper” all carry a more serious tone of finality and sworn oath to a holy cause that make for a more somber, sobering listen. Make no mistake, all three are excellent tracks, but they certainly are not what I was necessarily expecting from this experience. That said, the back half of swansong “Digging Deeper” is not to be missed, with a sorrowful, emotive bridge that leads into one of the best, if not certainly most expressive solos you’ll find on the record, the kind that you can just feel flowing through the speakers and practically into your blood stream. Without question, it’s one of the band’s crowning achievements, and though tonally it seems so far removed from where the album started, it’s one hell of a way to see it out.

Credit in particular has to be given to front man Colin Hendra for seeing this record through, because it came at no shortage of obstacles in its path. The departure of ex-drummer Jack Spencer forced him to also take over drum duties on this recording, and the band experienced a whole bunch of technical issues with amps and cabs basically blowing up seemingly without reason, and like many musicians, working a delicate balance between trying to manage his band, being a present parent and spouse, all while holding down a full-time job. To that end, I suppose it does take a lot of faith to be able to push forward with the hope and drive to make a project like Wytch Hazel work, and full credit due – IV: Sacrament is another superb entry into what is growing into one of the more impressive resumes in the world of Heavy Metal. I don’t care who or what you do or don’t believe in – believe in Wytch Hazel and get your hands on this fantastic album.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Steve K
June 28th, 2023

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