Get Bewitched you freaks. Portland’s speedy trio are back and they’re screaming for vengeance. Keep reading for a further look into Under the Witching Cross; I promise there are no more Judas Priest puns to come.
Bewitcher came into my glimpse (and I’m sure many others) with their Too Fast for the Flames EP, of which I mocked for being both odd in terms of format and also because the name is a little stupid. I mean the song was great, but to sum up that last article, essentially what happened was that Bewitcher released a new studio track as a tease to Under the Witching Cross, and released that on 7” vinyl with a W.A.S.P. cover B side. I thought the whole thing was odd because the new Bewitcher material was all confirmed to be re-released on whatever their next album would be (“Too Fast for the Flames” is the 5th track on this album), so I don’t know why anyone would have bought the vinyl single, unless they were a diehard Bewitcher fan; even at that the band doesn’t have too much of a following at all so it just seemed like a weird move.
Regardless, that EP introduced me to Bewitcher and here I am promoting them for free once again. My words taste good; I didn’t have dinner yet.
It has become very typical of me to label whatever speed metal release I review as “bluesy,” because it always feels like an appropriate tag in relation to what’s on the chopping block that week. While I will admit that I may have thrown this term around in the past, Under the Witching Cross does have some soul to it. Mainly producing from the lead guitar solos, there is a noticeable tinge of blues here and I really dig it.
Of course, aforementioned EP single “Too Fast for the Flames” makes another appearance here, and it seems like Bewitcher have tweaked this one a bit. They introduced a more rhythmic “arena rock” section right before the solo and it really adds some substance to the track. I’ve been a fan of this number since it debuted on that 7” EP, but I like it a lot more after these tweaks. It still carries a lot of power through the chorus and with it’s additions here and there it might be one of the stronger numbers on the release. Unfortunately, the name wasn’t changed, and we’re stuck with the title abomination that is “Too Fast for the Flames.” It also stands out within the scope of the album, as the other track titles seem to be a little more on the serious end, perhaps all alluding to some greater albeit vague narrative, like “Hexenkrieg” and “Heathen Woman,” but then “Too Fast for the Flames” stands out like a sore thumb, almost as if it was recorded in an entirely different session for a separate EP or something like that. Oh wait a second… There is something charming about this track though.
Speed metal can get a little tedious at times, as most albums of the sort tend to clock in anywhere between 30 and 40 minutes, spending most of the time shredding with moderately fast drumbeats. At first glance, Under the Witching Cross seemed like it would have met the same fate, but Bewitcher include a fair enough number of irregular varieties that mix the album up a bit. Unfortunately they’re all injected into the final few songs, so the first half of the record tends to come together into one blob. A good blob, but regardless a blob.
Regardless, of note is “In the Sign of the Goat” which takes a stance as that standard slower track on any given speed metal album. It holds an anthemic in nature with it’s repetitive yet highly singable chorus, all playing over a slower headbob-inducing riff. This track varied the album up but it’s kind of a hit or miss song; I enjoyed the sluggish (in a good way) intro accompanied by the more rock n’ roll drumbeat, but the track lost me at its middle portion. The lyrical substance isn’t there and this track has been done before, so I’m not really all that interested to be honest; I quite rather enjoy Bewitcher’s standard formula that we saw on the first half of the release. However, the number does feature an awesome ‘80s-sounding guitar solo which is splendid to listen to. Once again, a hit or miss track.
“Rome is on Fire,” penultimate number, spews this gang vocal section during it’s middle portion which hits the listener like a brick. I think the group vocal section might have been a little overdone in regards to the mix and production, it’s a little too upfront for my liking, but this is a minor gripe. Great track which, once again, manages to break up this potentially monotonous album.
Finally, “Frost Moon Ritual” closes the album in successful fashion. It’s a longer track of the instrumental variety, but ultimately stands as a success. For whatever you think about the songs that fell prior and the overall quality of this album, you can’t deny Bewitcher’s ability to write a solid album closer.
Also, the main riff to “Hexenkrieg” sounds a whole lot like the main riff to Mötley Crüe’s “Live Wire,” but maybe that’s just me. Either way, another great track.
In conclusion, I think this album will grow on me. Bewitcher’s flavour of speed metal is strong: gritty vocals, catchy riffs/harmonies, and enjoyable guitar solos all make for a great recipe here. However, I feel like Under the Witching Cross suffers from an unfortunate track placement, as all of the variety here is found in the back half of the album. Thus, your slower track, your instrumental, and your style change on the track with gang vocals all hit you around the same time, which alerts you that the album is soon to close, but these different numbers don’t really feel too connected. They feel more like album song stereotypes that were tossed into the back half of a full-length. Regardless of minor gripes I raised here and there, Under the Witching Cross feels like two separate albums in succession; the first being a band doing what they know best, and the second being a band experimenting. Both elements are great (and arguably necessary), but they don’t work together to form a coherent album, which is unfortunate.
However, the bottom line is that I think the album will grow on me. The top half is great. The bottom half is just above average, albeit with a few kinks here and there. Don’t write this album off, it deserves a listen. I’m keeping it on my rotation for the time being, there’s great something here, I think the release just needs some time to marinate.
Note: The rating below pertains more-so to the album quality as a cohesive work; if track quality was the only factor here, I’d probably rate this an 8/10.