Part throwback, part modern, all classic metal!
The world at large will no doubt continue to be dumbfounded at how every prediction of metal’s oncoming demise has proven as accurate as the Jehova’s witness various predictions of the apocalypse, but one clue that may help clear things up is the string of resurrection spells being cast in the form of studio LPs courtesy of Switzerland’s latest and possibly most auspicious act, Burning Witches. Drawing from the same blend of raw yet melodic, 80s styled speed and aggression that typified the heavier side of the old style and the feminine mystique that came with such notable acts as Warlock, Zed Yago and Leather, this quintet of highly skilled up-and-comers have been repeatedly upping the ante since their 2015 inception, bringing the classic metal tropes of witchcraft and archaic evil into the present day synthesis of the traditional style with power metal. The birth of their fifth portfolio of studio incantations dubbed “The Dark Tower” (not to be confused with the Stephen King novel series) continues their highly consistent output of communicating the sounds of 4 decades past into a modern context with caution thrown to the proverbial wind.
Though still a comparatively young outfit, the road already traveled has not been without a few bumps for this fold, and the performance they turn in here definitely betrays the wisdom of a battle-tested regiment. Dutch vocalist and jagged-edged impresario Laura Guldemond makes yet another stellar showing since stepping in for original singer Seraina Telli, recalling the lioness-like power and rasp of Doro Pesch and Jutta Weinhold during their respective 80s heyday, while still relative newcomer and guitarist Larissa Ernst continues to cut heads masterfully with co-founder Romana Kalkuhl, putting forth a blend of pulverizing riff work and richly harmonized lead exchanges that would make Iron Maiden and Judas Priest proud. Pile on top of this highly sweet and savory brew of old school fervor the colossal rhythm section provided by bassist Jeanine Grob and drummer Lala Frischknecht, as well as the production magic of German thrash legend Schmier and Poltergeist icon V.O. Pulver, and the result is an album so chock full of aggression that it often blurs the lines between its old school inspiration and the subsequent thrash exploits of the aforementioned powers behind the coven.
Though an album that is clearly knee-deep in the occult imagery of the early to mid-80s, there is also a highly theatrical character to it that dovetails with the later power metal craze in the U.S. and later Europe. The haunting clean guitars and dreary atmosphere of the opening prelude “Rise Of Darkness”, further adorned by a haunting harmonized chant by Guledmond and a menacing narration, set the tone of a looming explosion of auditory excellence with a vivid image of olden horrors in tow. Nipping directly on its heels is a brutal display of modern speed metal mayhem that could rival Judas Priest’s most vicious outings since “Painkiller”, and proves no slouch in the shred department with a stream of solos provided in a guest capacity by American virtuoso and The Iron Maidens axe-slinger Courtney Cox, whom also provides her signature licks to the fast-paced sea of riffs and harmonies “World On Fire” and the serene bordering on pristine balladry of “Tomorrow”, two songs which showcase a level of artistic range that sees this outfit outdoing themselves compared to past studio efforts.
Naturally this opus doesn’t diverge too far from the last couple LPs, leaning heavily on compact and well-crafted songwriting to temper what is otherwise an off the rails expression of archaic metal splendor. Mid-paced rocking beasts like “Renegade” and “Arrow Of Time” waste no time with fancy gimmickry and go straight for the most infectious hooks possible, recalling some of the arena favorites that Dio, Accept and Iron Maiden were trotting out in the mid-80s with a pair of equally memorable sing-along chorus sections. Things veer into more of an epic storytelling direction with the coupling of the audio book interlude of horror “House Of Blood” and the dark, thudding beast of a title anthem “The Dark Tower”, showcasing Guldemond’s extreme prowess in a master storyteller capacity, while the eerie signature guitar riff brings a vile, Slayer-like element to an otherwise traditional extended metal romp. Yet when all is said and done, the pinnacle moment that ties this album’s chapters together is the rich melodic speed anthem “Heart Of Ice”, which could almost be a b-side from Maiden’s “Powerslave” were it sung by Dickinson and mixed with 1984 studio technology.
If a modernized blend of mid-80s nostalgia and 2010s power metal fury is one’s preferred poison, then Burning Witches’ latest boiling cauldron of molten steel is about as good as it can get. Even when measured against the titanic sounds of recent output by the likes of Crystal Viper and Battle Beast, there is an extra dose of uncompromising aggression and punch that puts this album closer to the decibel level of the latest material heard out of Accept and Primal Fear. Old school fans will particularly want to give this offering an attentive listen for the two brilliant covers that come at its tail-end, as the renditions of WASP banger “I Wanna Be Somebody” and Ozzy Osbourne’s “Shot In The Dark” this outfit delivers take all the best elements of the originals and amps them up something fierce. With these five leather clad amazons now hitting the road with aforementioned guest guitarist Courtney Cox in congress and nothing but clear sailing ahead, it can safely be said that the 80s are alive and well in 2023, and the selections from this outing that make it to the stage will surely bring down the house with the best of them.
Order “The Dark Tower” AT THIS LOCATION.
Released By: Napalm Records
Release Date: May 5th, 2023
Genre: Heavy Metal
- Laura Guldemond / Vocals
- Romana Kalkuhl / Guitars
- Larissa Ernst / Guitars
- Jeanine Grob / Bass
- Lala Frischknecht / Drums
“The Dark Tower” track-listing:
1. Rise Of Darkness
2. Unleash The Beast
4. Evil Witch
5. World On Fire
7. House Of Blood
8. The Dark Tower
9. Heart Of Ice
10. Arrow Of Time
11. Doomed To Die
12. Into The Unknown
13. The Lost Souls
14. Shot In The Dark (Ozzy Osbourne cover)
15. I Wanna Be Somebody (WASP cover)
Switzerland’s premier heavy metal coven unleashes yet another boiling cauldron of pure sonic magic, recalling the vintage 80s flash and flair of Judas Priest and WASP, but with the feminine fire and pizzazz of Warlock, Chastain and Velvet Viper