|Musical Style: Hard Rock||Produced By: Ed Turner|
|Record Label: Bad Omen||Country Of Origin: UK|
|Year Released: 2016||Artist Website:|
|Tracks: 10||Rating: 85%|
|Running Time: 46:37|
Wytch Hazel harnesses the synergy between new wave of British heavy metal, the hard rock twin guitar attack of Thin Lizzy and folk-rock eccentricity to Jethro Tull. Further imbuing its sound with facets of sacred medieval music, the Lancaster, UK based quartet is one of the few if only acts within current hard music circles to draw upon such distinct musical nuances without coming across dated or derivative at the same time. The Wytch Hazel spring of 2016 Bad Omen Records debut full length Prelude, accordingly, defies style classification by leaving the impression of residing firmly in the Middle Ages but mirroring the exuberant vigor of seventies influenced hard rock tinged heavy metal. The groups press material sums things up succinctly in this regard: “In the parallel universe where the new wave of British heavy metal happened 600 years early, Wytch Hazel are the band of choice for the discerning Plantagenet head banger”.
At this point, it deserves mention that Wytch Hazel is by no means a Christian band, but it does include one believing member within its line up, vocalist and guitarist Colin Hendra. The Prelude lyrics are open and forthright in reflecting Hendra’s faith, who in a recent online interview declared:
"I'm a Christian in a heavy metal band. I don't see it as Wytch Hazel is a Christian heavy metal band. I mean, in our band Neil (Corkery, bassist) is a Roman Catholic and I'm more Protestant and then Josh (Winnard, guitarist) is agnostic/atheist. So, for me, it's just about doing normal stuff while having a Christian voice or influence. In terms of lyrics and stuff, it (my faith) was always going to come through because I write the songs, but for me it's not really an issue- I know that not everyone shares the same views, I believe in democracy.”
With its history dating to the vision Hendra developed upon discovering sacred vocal music and medieval dance through his college studies, Wytch Hazel got its start in 2011 with a two song demo, Surrender, followed by a four song EP, The Truth, and a pair of seven-inch splits in 2012. Subsequent to a 2013 compilation encompassing the material from Surrender and The Truth, Wytch Hazel signed to Bad Omen prior to starting work on Prelude.
Direct comparison to Wytch Hazel, particularly as it pertains to Christian bands, proves problematic. That said, Die Happy captures some of the seventies classic rock sentiments within a hard rock to metal framework as Wytch Hazel. Where the comparison ends, however, is in vocals in that Hendra brings a soulful and melodic mid-ranged style as opposed to the soaring and high-end delivery of Robin Kyle Basauri. Likewise, the blues driven hard rock groove to Red Sea comes to mind but Basauri’s vocals, again, set things apart.
I can see those into early nineties Bride finding Wytch Hazel of interest, although Wytch Hazel is not going after the Aerosmith meets Guns N’ Roses blues based hard rock sound. Resurrection Band deserves mention for its seventies based hard rock leanings, but it also lacks the folk rock and medieval idiosyncrasies inherent to Wytch Hazel. ArkAngel highlights somewhat similar medieval influences, keeping in mind Wytch Hazel is nowhere near as outside the box and progressive in terms of its execution.
Opener “Freedom Battle” roars out of the gate to immaculate guitar harmonies, smoothly flowing and mid-tempo its perseverant distance in transitioning between combative verses and candid ‘fight for your life, fight or you’ll die’ refrain. Hendra proves every bit adept guitar wise as he is a vocalist, providing the catchy twin guitar hooks not to mention blues drenched soloing that would do Glenn Kaiser (Resurrection Band) proud.
Starting to militant drums and bass, “Fight” chugs at the more decisive tempo to a galloping riff based focus in giving rise to a victorious medieval battle anthem flair. This one best embodies those seventies rock subtleties wrapped in a hard rock meets metal package: in a previous era “Fight” might be categorized as heavy metal, albeit in today’s hard music landscape most would identify with it as straightforward hard rock. No matter how you label it, you cannot say “Fight” is not very good.
“Mighty King” opens its first seconds to calmly played guitar before kicking in at once to melodic guitar harmonies. The song proves a worshipful hard rocker moving forward, plodding and trudging through its thick as all get out verses only to explode in inspiration for the moving feel to its grandiose refrain. From Sacred Warrior to Petra and all things in between, worship rock has been exceedingly well performed, but few better capture the wonder, awe and stateliness to the genre as well as Wytch Hazel on “Mighty King”.
“More Than Conquerors” comes across in the form of a heightened and inspired hard rocker. This one sets quite the heavy hitting tone, with guitars making a pronounced statement while Jack Spencer providers the backbone with his staunch timekeeping, but ultimately is put over the top by the triumphant feel of the refrain: ‘We are more than conquerors! / We have power to stand and overcome!’ Of equal note is the manner in which the song’s opening segues from ethereal guitars to an upbeat motif reminds of the start to Warlord’s “War In Heaven” (off the 2002 release Rising Out Of The Ashes). No, Wytch Hazel is not going after the epic metal things but the comparison is uncanny (and very flattering!).
After beginning to four straight heavier tracks, Prelude tempers for the calmer lacings of “Psalm”. As its title implies, this one draws inspiration from Psalm 23 but embodied in a medieval rock essence as gentle acoustic guitar melds with delicate keyboards. “Psalm” best manifests those ArkAngel attributes, particularly the “Wind Face” first side to the groups 1980 Star Song release Warrior. Standing out equally is Hendra’s fitting stretch of bluesy soloing.
Albums instrumental title track gives Wytch Hazel opportunity to exhibit its licks and chops musicianship wise. The acoustic guitars from “Psalm” carry over onto “Prelude”, with the firs two and a half minutes drifting placidly as bluesy feedback and ominous keyboards coalesce. Impetus picks up as the song maneuvers to its close, with impeccable guitar harmonies and classic rock flavored riffs step forward to drive things over a foundation of staunch bass and lively drums.
I like to identify with “He Shall Reign” as apocalyptic hard rock. The song kicks in at once, bold and brazen with metal edged guitar tinctures but equally epic in terms of the exalted refrain that, similar to “Mighty King”, touches upon the worshipful. “He Shall Reign” shines instrumentally, descending into calmer interlude territory before powering its way ahead as doom-laden rhythm guitars and astringent soloing leads the way. The sublime variances and lofty flavorings help rate “He Shall Reign” with this reviewer’s choice tracks.
Prelude returns to acoustic rock territory for “Dark Ages”. Not unlike “Psalm”, Wytch Hazel reflects its folk rock nuances on “Dark Ages”, but also potentially comes across somewhat trite in that I find two acoustic pieces on a ten-song track a bit much. That said, “Dark Ages” is by no means bad in that it highlights the groups underrated vocal harmonies in addition to a distinct melody- so the best way to sum up is that I like it but not as much as other tracks here (or at the very least would prefer another hard rocker in its place).
“Wytch Hazel”, on the other hand, delivers the needed hard rocking goods with its up-tempo guitar essence and cantering momentum setting the forthright tone. Of note is the corresponding curtly done refrain, which allows Hendra to highlight the more exuberant qualities to his vocal delivery. What sets “Wytch Hazel” apart, however, is the time signature driven instrumental section, as a brief acoustic passage yields to albums best stretch of precisely played lead guitar.
Prelude closes to another of my favorite cuts, “We Will Be Strong”. What I appreciate is how it plays up an abounding medieval aptitude, as found in its mirthful impetus and fluid melody, and matches it with some of the albums most intense riff action. I like to think of “We Will Be Strong” as successfully capturing a consummate joining of the medieval and heavier rocking as a result- and represents all things manifest Wytch Hazel in the process.
No complaint in regards to production in that all the needed ingredients are at hand: guitars play a forward role, while drums and bass stand out in the mix alongside an even lead vocal placement. Packaging, however, could use some improving. Perhaps it is me, but the cover art seems a bit plain - at least when factoring what the groups could have done (i.e.: an epic medieval spiritual warfare battle portrait) - while lyrics and liner notes are in a difficult to read old English medieval font.
Lyrics stand out ever bit much as the music in (again) reflecting Hendra’s faith. “More Than Conquers” draws its prose from Romans 8:31-39:
No angels, demons, life nor death
Present, future, height or depth
None can separate us from
The One who was and is and is to come
We are more than conquerors
None shall steal us from the love of our King
We are more than conquerors
We have power to stand and overcome
“Mighty King” is a worship rock number:
Sing to Him for He
Is rich in mercy
How we adore Thee
For saving mightily
Mighty, saving King
We may die but His sacrifice
Brought death to life, we shall sing
Mighty saving King
“He Shall Reign” bases itself around the Book of Revelation:
In the spirit I saw a throne through an open door
Emerald rainbow adorned the mighty seat that I saw
There were thrones they seated elders robed in white
Flashes, peals of thunder surround the throne of light
He shall reign forever…
Spiritual warfare is the focus of “We Will Be Strong” –
We will be found with truth as our belt
So we can stand firm and
None can accuse those found in the King
A blameless body of salvation
A war of the realms we’re entering in
We will advance by the Sword and
Shield of faith now we will take up
For the flaming darts of the evil one
- and “Freedom Battle”:
Pressing on in the present fight
Armed with freedom, truth and with light
I’m breaking the chains; I’m letting the captive go free
Victory in this war will be found
But fighting now must resound
I’ll prevail in the final battle
Another reviewer that suggested the following had the right idea when it comes to summarizing Prelude:
“(the album) conjures images of warriors at dawn enjoying the dying embers of the fire in an autumnal forest and the plucking of a lute carrying over the hills; the distant thwack of the knacker's drum joining a growing cacophony and the last drops of mead drained, the jester risen from slumber before the battle cry goes up.”
Lyrically, I appreciate the group’s faith-based spiritual basis in that it could all too easily have gone the ‘dungeons-and-dragons-swords-and-knights-slay-the-dragon route when factoring its medieval image (Wytch Hazel is known to perform live in full ‘battle wear’, rope belts and all).
Musically, it potentially proves problematic classifying Prelude in that while I find it sufficient to use the ‘hard rock label’, it might also be limiting in light of the sacred medieval, seventies classic rock and NWOBHM influences at hand. Regardless of the label you affix, you cannot say Wytch Hazel is not unique in light of a current hard music scene awash in a few to many similar sounding power meets progressive metal copycat bands. A true throwback in this regard, Wytch Hazel certainly has a bright future ahead when factoring how I see it getting even better on any subsequent release it might record.
Review by Andrew Rockwell
Track Listing: “Freedom Battle” (5:09), “Fight” (3:56), “Mighty King” (4:01), “More Than Conquerors” (4:42), “Psalm” (4:53), ”Prelude” 94:17), “He Shall Reign” 94:56), “Dark Ages” (4:06), “Wytch Hazel” 94:34), “We Will Be Strong” (5:59)
Colin Hendra - Lead Vocals & Guitars
Matt Gatley - Guitars
Neil Corkery - Bass
Jack Spender - Drums