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Friday, 2 December 2016

Reviews: Witchery, Bölzer, Avant Guardian

Witchery: In His Infernal Majesty's Service (Century Music)

Hail Satan! Now I've got that out of the way I can get down to reviewing what is Witchery's sixth album and sees them once again with a new vocalist as Angus Norder replaces Legion who was behind the mic on the previous record. Witchery was formed in 1997 by The Haunted co-founder Patrik Jensen who along with Richard Corpse and Sharlee D'Angelo (Arch Enemy, Spiritual Beggars, Mercyful Fate) are still the main triumvirate of the band.

It's their three guitars that drive the blackened thrash metal of this and previous releases, it's frantic, Satanic and incendiary bringing to mind the occult driven thrash/speed metal of Mercyful Fate and Venom. Lavey-athan (Google the Church Of Satanism folks) starts with a roar from the bowels of the beast himself and bludgeons from the outset, Zoroast adds more classic thrash sounds with the dual guitars adding some clean Cali thrashing to the sound as Netherworld Emperor has a chunky industrially-tinged stomp and a great lead break, things get faster with black metal fuelled on The Burning Of Salem.

It's a heavyweight album that does what Witchery have always done, bring the hymns of Satan to the masses, if Black metal is a little too wild and thrash a little too tame Witchery may fill that void, equal parts classic and modern this is a nasty little treat for anyone that bows to the beast incarnate. 7/10

Bölzer: Hero (Iron Bonehead Productions)

Now we come to underground heroes Bölzer who hail from Switzerland, they play black/death metal that is furious and at times oppressive but also imbued with a sense of hope. Bölzer translates loosely to 'smasher' or 'bulldozer' and it's an accurate description of the band's it bludgeons you with it's animalistic force, what's more impressive about the sheer volume and noise on this record is that the band is comprised of two members, KzR takes the guitars and shouting while HzR has the drumming down to a fine art, frighteningly fast on the faster passages but equally can be deft and sparse.

It's the progressive nature of this record that's to it's benefit, the songs don't outstay their welcome and have enough changing time signatures to keep the interest and also makes it much more spectacular that these songs are performed by just two men. You can mention Opeth in terms of soundalikes but also there are touches of fellow Swiss band Celtic Frost with the death metal blending with the black metal soundscapes.

KzR's guitar work is also relentless the riffs come at light speed washing over the percussive backing with just sheer force, his vocals meanwhile are very varied moving between scarred barking and a booming shout. Hero is a very good album and will be enough to bring Bölzer into the wider metal sphere, disconcerting, oppressive and also musically intense, Bölzer are ready to take on the established names in metal and shake things up. 7/10

Avant Guardian; Metamorphosis (Self Released)

Californian band Avant Guardian are not the beret wearing version of German band Blind Guardian they are in fact a progressive metal band with elements of power metal but mainly their sound sits in the same kind of sound as Pagan's Mind or Seventh Wonder. For a band that have only been in existence since 2009 it's great to hear a band that are so technically solid after such little time, the guitars and keys merge with brilliance from the outset, the melodic leads of Will and Ivan weave in and out and are underpinned by the technical drumming and intricate bass playing of Denny and Luis, but the superior playing is all very par for the course.

Classical influences abound, the symphonic elements of this record come from Ryan's keys which are actually the major contributor of the record giving the band a nod to Stratovarius. Now for all the skilled musicianship on this album there is a fatal flaw, the vocals of Collin are not particularly good, he doesn't have much of a range and it detracts a little from the music, with another singer this could break through the countless other prog/power metal acts out there but at the moment no matter how talented they are the vocals dampen anything even when the female vocals come in on Stockholm Syndrome they are slightly off.

It sounds like I'm being overly harsh but trust me I have heard countless prog metal acts and no matter how brilliant the musicianship is without a vocalist to bring the correct emotion it can just break down into musical nerdery. 5/10      

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