There is always some bated breath involved when a new WITCHERY album is about to drop. It's not like the all-star quintet has ever disappointed, but the bar was set so high with the raw thrash power of those first three albums in particular that I'm always wondering whether the other shoe will drop. It hasn't yet, certainly doesn't with "Witchkrieg", and I doubt it ever will. Let the exhaling begin.
If anything, "Witchkrieg" is a surlier album than "Don't Fear the Reaper", the latter of which took me a time or two to fully appreciate due to Tue Madsen's tighter/thicker/cleaner mix. The recording this time around is no less professional and the mix is geared toward maximum instrument separation, yet the balance is struck between thrashing menace and superb sound quality. I can't help but think some of that has to do with new vocalist Legion (DEVIAN, ex-MARDUK). He brings a delivery that is unique and excoriating at once. The hot bloodedness of "Witchkrieg" has a lot to do with his involvement.
Feeling like a high speed jaunt over rough terrain, the vehicle at times appears ready to flip until the realization hits that the success of the disc is due in large part to the unhinged manner in which grainy textures join the jagged licks of Rickard Rimfält and Jensen (THE HAUNTED) and the mammoth rhythm section of bassist Sharlee D'Angelo (ARCH ENEMY) and drummer Martin Axe (OPETH, BLOODBATH). What results is a tidal wave of frayed nerves and broken bones. "Witchkrieg" is also an album that is full of truly great songs that plaster themselves to the frontal lobes. Most noteworthy are tumultuous bookend thrash anthems "Witchkrieg" (tailor made for Kerry King's guest solo appearance) and "Witch Hunter", a supreme quartet of catchy tunes in "Wearer of Wolf's Skin", "The God Who Fell from Earth" (featuring soloing from Hank Shermann), "The Reaver" (featuring the solos of Lee Altus and Gary Holt), "Conqueror's Return", and the curiously titled "From Dead to Worse" (guest solo from Andy La Rocque) with a refrain that you just can't shake. We're talking 10 cuts, 10 aces. Forget about any "bad" songs or "filler," there isn't anything that even approaches mediocrity.
Beyond the excellence of the writing, "Witchkrieg" recaptures the spirit of those early albums, albeit with a better production. It's nasty, nefarious, and ferociously thrashing. At the end of the day, that's what WITCHERY is all about. This is mandatory.