(Swords and Chains 2015)
Chicago-area record label / distro Swords and Chains Records is mostly known for its cassette-only releases, but the label hit a home run late last year with its first foray into the compact disc format, in the form of Skelator’s excellent ‘King of Fear’ opus. Now, Swords and Chains have taken a turn to the obscure and the esoteric with their second CD release, namely Witch Blade ‘Oskuldernas Eld’ (Swedish for ‘Virgin’s Fire,’ which explains the cover drawing depicting an unfortunate woman/witch being burned at the stake by hooded bible-thumpers). The fresh-faced Swedish quartet are very much a part of the so-called New Wave of Traditional Heavy Metal, wearing their old-school metal influences on their sleeves with eight songs that scream NWOBHM in all areas, from the stripped-down songwriting to the raw/unpolished production to the enthusiastic performances. Hell, they’ve even got the wacky period nicknames to go along with the music, with guitarists Witchdoctor and Witchlover, singer/bassist Witchhunter, and drummer Witchburner. Haha, Witchlover. I love it.
That said, this Witch Blade debut does have some elements that may leave some metalheads scratching their heads. Far and away the biggest stumbling block is that the lyrics are in Swedish. All of them. Personally, I’ve never had a problem with foreign-language lyrics, but we native English speakers are spoiled by the fact that such a high percentage of heavy metal is sung in our own tongue, so some listeners may never give Witch Blade a chance for that reason. Other issues include the quiet mastering (man, you’ve got to really crank this sucker to hear it properly), the brevity of the running time (at 26 minutes for 8 songs, it feels more like a demo or an EP than a full-length album), and the limited, half-shouted vocals of Witchhunter which are certainly serviceable but never exceptional.
Based on that last paragraph, you might think I’m trying to steer you away from ‘Oskuldernas Eld.’ Not so. Witch Blade have a great deal to offer to fans of honest, old-fashioned heavy metal. Particularly the guitars of Witchdoctor and Witchlover (haha, there it is again) weave some absolutely magical melodies and inspired riffs. Nearly every song has at least one awesome guitar passage that is guaranteed to satisfy those whose favorite bands of today include the likes of Air Raid, Portrait and Night Demon. The nice thing about the record’s short duration is that things keep moving along at a nice clip, with no lulls or boring parts. The energy and exuberance remain high throughout, as Witch Blade make every second count on this mostly fast-paced affair. Sure, there are times when I kind of tune out the vocals to focus on the killer guitars, but ‘Oskuldernas Eld’ is a satisfying listen from a band that has a unique slant on the oversaturated classic metal revival movement. These Witches are off to a promising start, for sure.
~ Review by Kit Ekman ~