It has been both fascinating and intensely rewarding to witness the evolution and development of Portland, Oregon’s Spellcaster over the last few years. Their 2011 debut, ‘Under the Spell,’ was a completely fun, cliché-ridden exercise in chest-beating true metal. But their 2014 self-titled sophomore album showed Spellcaster taking on a darker, more nuanced and thought-provoking approach that seemed influenced by the mystical Swedish school (think In Solitude, RAM, Portrait, and so on). The obvious question was where Spellcaster would go on album #3, backed for the first time by the substantial marketing and distribution muscle of Prosthetic Records. The answer is found within the contents of ‘Night Hides the World,’ which saw the light of day this summer.
My initial reaction on hearing this album was that Spellcaster have refined and perfected the darker, more obscure style from the self-titled album. The songs are still haunting, dark and somewhat melancholy, from the lyrics to the riffs to the arrangements. The twin guitars of Bryce Van Hoosen and Cory Boyd still weave a magical, mesmerizing tapestry of catchy, clever melodies. But vocalist Tyler Loney has taken a massive step forward on ‘Night Hides the World,’ obliterating the occasional shaky moments from the last album (which was also his first outing as Spellcaster’s vocalist, having switched from guitar) and delivering a confident, powerful, and almost hypnotic performance that fits perfectly with the eerie vibe of the material. More broadly, Spellcaster seem to have made a conscious effort to back off the bombast, keep their foot off the gas pedal, and simply allow these songs to breathe. It’s hard to describe, but unlike the dense adrenaline-rush, unrelenting hammer-down attitude that typifies so much traditional metal these days, ‘Night Hides the World’ sees Spellcaster putting space between the notes, air between the melodies, and a certain light airiness to offset the darkness within. It’s a sort of laidback aesthetic that seems to owe more to classic rock than to pummeling heavy metal. It makes Spellcaster unique. More importantly, it works brilliantly with these songs, conveying atmosphere and feeling and emotion, rather than simply trying to annihilate the listener with power chords and double-bass drums. The title track is a perfect example of what I’m trying to convey, so give it a listen (or, better yet, watch the amazing video on YouTube) to get a concrete representation of what I mean.
Don’t misunderstand me: Spellcaster haven’t gone all Blue Oyster Cult / Ghost on us. ‘Night Hides the World’ is plenty heavy, plenty metal, and tracks like “I Live Again,” “Aria” or “The Accuser” are guaranteed to get those rivetheads a-banging and those metal hearts a-pounding. It’s just that, in developing their own style, Spellcaster have come to realize that sometimes less is more. So they’ve taken a batch of eight excellent old-school traditional metal songs (more immediate and memorable than much of the material on the self-titled album, it must be said), crafted arrangements that brilliantly accentuate the dark and somber mood of the tracks, performed them in a compelling manner, and wrapped them in a stellar, natural production that allows every instrument to shine through. The result feels authentic, it sounds honest, and it stands out in an overpopulated field of soundalike throwback bands (many of whom, I hasten to add, I dearly love). I don’t know whether it’s because of the maturation process (they were just kids when they started out), the heavy touring they’ve done, the gelling of their current lineup, or something else. Whatever the reason, Spellcaster have found their sound and struck gold. ‘Night Hides the World’ is one of the most addictive albums I’ve heard in 2016. For a late-night listen in a darkened room alone with one’s thoughts and a cold beer, this album hits the spot magnificently. Hats off, gentlemen.
~ Review by Kit Ekman ~