Album Title: Nightside
Label: Century Media Records
Date of Release: 22 July 2022
Swedish band Witchery have been around since 1997 – that’s twenty-five years, a quarter of a century – and for all of that time, they have remained at the periphery of my affections. Over the course of seven studio albums, they have helped to create, hone, and experiment with the style of music best described as blackened thrash metal. I have always kept an eye, or rather, an ear on the sounds that the Swedes have created without ever fully falling for their nasty, spiteful charms. Maybe the eighth time is a charm?
Since releasing their last album, ‘I Am Legion’ back in 2017, Witchery have been forced to replace their long-time bassist Sharlee D’Angelo who has finally flown the nest to focus on his plethora of other bands that include Arch Enemy and The Night Flight Orchestra. In his place though, comes an equally experienced musician in the form of Victor Brandt (ex-Entombed A.D. and Dimmu Borgir). He joins original, founding guitarists Patrik Jensen and Rikard Rimfält, alongside 2016 incomers Chris Barkensjö (drums) and vocalist Angus Norder.
If ever there was an album that could be referred to as a ‘slow burner’, it is this. ‘Nightside’, the eighth album to bear the Witchery name is a fully-fledged concept album which, in the words of Jensen himself is “a story of unreal nightmares, demonic possession, inquisitional witches’ trials and then dives into the really dark stuff”. First off, I didn’t really like the artwork, and still don’t if I’m honest. Clearly not a dealbreaker but, when coupled with a first listen that failed to ignite my fires, it became a real effort to delve into it again in order to put this review together. Suffice to say that my views have changed somewhat, and I put my initial apathy down to the fact that I was into my twenty second hour of travelling, a journey that was extended four-fold due to the UK’s inability to function when faced with a little weather out of the ordinary.
Now that I have lived with ‘Nightside’ for several days, repeated forays into the album have revealed something that I have grown to rather like. At the outset, I will declare that even at just 35-minutes, there are a couple of points where my interest wanes ever so slightly, meaning that it isn’t quite as consistent as I would have liked. For example, I’m not a fan of either of the two ‘interlude’ pieces, that aren’t really interludes – ‘Er Steht In Flammen’ and ‘Under The Altar’. However, for the most part, the record delivers positively.
‘Witching Hour’ is the opening track, and it is one of the fastest, heaviest, and most sinister tracks on the album, kicking things off with a real statement of intent. I didn’t care much for it at the outset because I felt it lacked a killer punch, but now I realise that the entirety of the song is the collective killer punch. The opening drum solo, the ensuing sharp and incisive riffs, the insidious groove, subtle melodies, and Norder’s nasty, rasping bark all come together alongside a swift lead solo and strange haunting sounds to deliver three minutes of blackened thrash excellence.
After the opening blast, ‘Don’t Burn The Witch’ decides to build upon the grooves heard in the opener, but dial them up a coupe of notches. It is a song that sits within the mid-tempo and carries a swagger that will dig its claws into you whether or not you want them to. It also offers Victor Brandt the opportunity to make an early mark with his new bandmates. ‘Storm Of The Unborn’ meanwhile, has become a personal favourite thanks to the increased atmosphere created by the judicious use of syths at points that are then joined eagerly by bass and drums, followed by the wailing of a lead guitar. But it’s the increased melody that gets to me most, transforming the song into a truly edifying affair.
It’ll therefore come as no surprise to learn that my other favourite cut on ‘Nightside’ is the magnificent ‘Crucifix And Candle’. The opening bass and drum intro gets things off to a dramatic, urgent start, which then settles into a groovy mid-tempo stomp whilst Norder growls out his own tweaked version of The Lord’s Prayer. The riffs are chunky, deep, and resonate nicely but, at around the 2:45 mark, in comes the most potent and immediate melody anywhere on the album, led by lead guitars that sing mellifluously into the darkness. If anything, I’d have loved another couple of moments like this scattered within the material on ‘Nightside’, but alas it is not to be.
Nevertheless, there is more quality to be heard, starting with ‘A Forest Of Burning Coffins’ which is a fast and intense workout that’s handed more of a death metal sheen thanks to the guest appearance of Carcass’ Jeff Walker. Or there’s the bruising riffing of ‘Popecrusher’, or the doom-laden, slow stomp of ‘Left Hand March’ which will get the head nodding however hard you try to stop it.
Whilst I wouldn’t say that ‘Nightside’ has led to me finally falling in love with Witchery, I would go as far as saying that it is a thoroughly entertaining and enjoyable half-hour of blackened thrash, the kind for which these Swedes are known and loved by so many. It isn’t perfect, but very few albums ever are, and if it is given the time to get under your skin, you can count on it doing so. Long term fans will love it, and it might bring some new fans to the Witchery cause too – it certainly deserves to do so.
The Score of Much Metal: 81%