(El Puerto 2015)
Here’s a heartwarming story: To some, the name Lee Tarot will forever be associated with mysticism, magic and might. You see, Lee Tarot (real name Harald Spengler) was a founder and chief songwriter of Stormwitch, the legendary German melodic metallers who released a glorious run of four albums in the mid-1980s (from ‘Walpurgis Night’ through ‘Beauty and the Beast’) that rivals the finest output of any of their contemporaries. Tarot split from Stormwitch in 1989 and, truth be told, the band was never the same afterwards. He wrote (but played very little on) an excellent unknown gem of an album called ‘Odyssey’ by Tarot’s Myst in 1999, but otherwise was little heard from over the last quarter century of his life. Sadly, Harald Spengler died in 2013, and most assumed that world would never hear any more of his magical music.
Well, it turns out Spengler had worked on a batch of songs in 2006 and 2007 that his friends and former bandmates decided were simply too good not to be heard. So four of the ex-Stormwitch guys got together with a new singer (Thorsten Lichtner, formerly of Black Abyss) and formed Witchbound with the idea of finishing and releasing these songs. The fittingly titled ‘Tarot’s Legacy’ is the fruit of those labors, and it really is a marvelous gift for those of us who loved the work of Lee Tarot. The spirit of Stormwitch and Tarot’s Myst oozes from the very pores of this thing, which is high-quality classy mystical (or “black romantic” to use the old Stormwitch tag) melodic Euro metal from front to back. Spengler gets songwriting credits on 12 of the 14 tracks here, with co-writes going to ex-Stormwitch guitarists Stefan Kauffmann and Martin Winkler.
If you’re expecting high-energy raging metal, then Witchbound are not for you. Spengler always had kind of a laidback writing style that was firmly rooted in traditional metal, but had a certain classy elegance about it, like you might be able to listen to it in a ballroom while dressed in formal garb and drinking out of an ornate china teacup. Melodies are big, smooth and easy. And most of the songs have hugely memorable hooks and choruses. But this definitely falls under the heading of “melodic Euro metal.” Guitars generally have enough heft and punch to satisfy, particularly in the crunchier songs like “Jester’s Day” and (especially) “Holy Ground,” but this is certainly a metal album throughout. Lyrics deal with such subjects as bubbling cauldrons, drunken kings, veiled warriors, glowing irons and trails of stars, further accentuating the mystical feeling of the music. Vocalist Thorsten Lichtner may not have the overall charisma of Stormwitch frontman Andy Muck (to whom he will inevitably be compared), but his voice fits the tunes well and absolutely does justice to the material.
I feel huge gratitude and respect for the members of Witchbound for sharing ‘Tarot’s Legacy’ with the world. It’s not the kind of record I can spin all the time, but for a soothing late-night listen or those moments when the spirit of black romanticism overcomes me, ‘Tarot’s Legacy’ fits the bill to perfection. The liner notes mention that Witchbound is not just a project but a real band. I hope that’s true, and I hope that these friends and colleagues of Harald Spengler continue to honor their fallen comrade’s legacy by writing, recording and releasing more songs in the vein of the ‘Tarot’s Legacy’ material. For fans of old Stormwitch and Tarot’s Myst, this is an absolutely mandatory listen. For the rest of you, it may serve as a worthy introduction to the oeuvre of a talented, unique metal musician who was taken away from us far too young. R.I.P. Lee Tarot, and long live Witchbound.
~ Review by Kit Ekman ~