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Monday 2 November 2020

Reviews: Wytch Hazel, Stalker, Steel Arctus, Vol 4 [Redux] (Reviews By Matt Bladen)

Wytch Hazel: III - Pentacost (Bad Omen Records)

Rustic, a good word to describe the kind of music Lancashire band Wytch Hazel have been conjuring for nearly a decade. Raised on a diet of Jethro Tull, Thin Lizzy, Uriah Heep, Blue Oyster Cult and drawing lyrically from frontman Colin Hedra's Pentecostal Christianity, III: Pentacost is yet another 10 track journey through their most ecclesiastical album yet enriched with hard rock ideals of Ghost and a naturalistic mysticism of Fleetwood Mac. Take a song like Archangel which has a occult rock vibe favoured by Mr Forge, though it is lyrically opposite to the pro-Satan dogma of that band, the song is in fact a homage. The powerful Dry Bones moves into the anthemic style of bands such as Grand Magus Colin Hedra unleashing his best vocal performance of the album reaching highs only dogs can hear. 

Now I've mentioned before about how I love to indulge in anything that can be considered retro, especially if it's stuck in the 1970's, Wytch Hazel are unashamedly stuck in the 1970's from the folky instrumental of Sonata that shifts into the choppy I Will Not or the heavy organs on I Am Redeemed to fluid Reap The Harvest have the all the characteristics of those 70's hard rock glory days but also sound achingly modern with the current retro revival. Recorded at The Stationhouse by ex-Purson man Ed Turner, III: Pentacost brims with energy and confidence providing Wytch Hazel's most musically deep record yet as Alex Haslam (guitars), Andy Shackleton (bass) and Jack Spencer (drums) all make an excellent contribution to the album along with Hedra's voice and guitar, as you get layered acoustics, organs and even some cello from Colin's Dad David. Don't worry though heathens III: Pentacost is not the evangelical praise you get from Stryper or Enzo and his Glory Ensemble, yes there is Christian influence lyrically but they allow the music to speak for itself like all the best artists. A brilliant album! 9/10

Stälker: Black Majik Terror (Napalm Records)

Bursting out of Wellington, New Zealand are thrashing punks Stälker, Black Majik Terror is their second full length following on from two EP's and their debut Shadow Of The Sword. While there was a point to prove on the debut album on this second one they can flex their muscles a little adding more 80's metal melodies on tracks such as the almost progressively tinged Holocene's End while also retaining the blistering thrash power of Iron Genocide and Demolition which takes you back to early Slayer aggression as they also bring some Venom-like occult leanings on The Cross. It's ferocious and furious from the first moment with wild riffs, battering drums and crazed vocals never relenting, which does unfortunately it's a little one dimensional in places. Daif, Nick, and Chris haven't slowed at all since the debut and if you liked that one you'll love this. 6/10

Steel Arctus: Fire & Blood (Valve Studio Records)

Recorded in the misty mountains of Pindos, the cover art sees two scantily clad, mountainous warriors attacking the invading hordes one decked out in a Corinthian Helmet and wielding a huge hammer like the Mediterranean cousin of Hammerfall's Hector. Fire & Blood is the debut record from Thessaloniki based band Steel Arctus, everything about the packaging bellows at you that they this album is going to be full of bare chested epic power/heavy metal and as soon as you let the music flow the title track backs up these initial ideas with a steady thumping drum intro, humongous galloping riffs (repeated on the Savage Heart), delicious keyboard runs and histrionic vocals. It very much fills that 'epic' style favoured by the previously mentioned bands as they also bring folky textures and choral chants (Moira takes influence from the Scottish namesake) which add to the cinematic leaning of this album. 

Fire & Blood has a massive scope and is a surprise that the membership is limited to three, Nash G taking guitars, bass and keys (basically the majority of the music), Xines behind the kit bringing the rampaging rhythms and Tasos Lazaris having the vocal power behind the mic that scales mountains but also gives some grunt on the heavier numbers such as Hellhammer. Classic heavy metal is very much the order of the day Doombringer is a raging speed metal song packed full of solos ala Judas Priest or fellow Greeks Firewind while Savage Heart is built around a walking bassline Mr DeMaio is a fan of it makes you want to throw your fist in the air it leads into Arcadian Lady which starts out softly before the bombast is ramped up again. Steel Arctus have nailed that 'epic metal' sound with Fire & Blood  an album perfect to soundtrack Alexander's descent Eastward it will have you quoting "There is nothing impossible to him who will try" in no time. 8/10  

V/A: Vol 4 [Redux] (Magnetic Eye Records)

On the back of excellent Redux's of Pink Floyd's The Wall and Alice In Chains' Dirt comes the latest Magnetic Eye Records compilation of stoner/doom bands playing an album in full. The album in question here is Black Sabbath's seminal Vol 4 probably the best album from heavy metal's inventors it's surely been an influence on every band featured here. We kick off with Baton Rouge sludge monsters taking on Wheels Of Confusion adding some grave digging riffs to the Sabbath classic, the ideal band for an 8 minute opener the use of harsh/clean vocals adding an extra bit of rage to the track as we move into Tomorrow's Dream which is performed by stoner rockers The Obsessed, leave it to Scott 'Wino' Weinrich and co to both give it the beans and keep it faithful to the Sabbath original. Philly four piece cranks up Sabbath's big ballad Changes adding heavy grooves as FX (an instrumental) is taken by Matt (Riffs For Days) Pike of High On Fire, noodling on his axe. 

He's not the only legend hear as the closing Under The Sun is taken by Zakk Sabbath, as we get noise rockers WHORES getting Cornucopia nice and fucking loud as Laguna Sunrise gets that Tony Reed (Mos Generator) sheen on it. The albums three most recognizable tracks though are given to bands who epitomise 'Sabbath Worship' Spirit Adrift taking a standard riff heavy version of Supernaut while Green Lung give Snowblind some massive organ stabs putting a personal spin on this classic while echoing the original, it's left to Trevor Church's classic metal project Haunt to riff the hell through St Vitus Dance. Another excellent Redux from the Magnetic Eye Team but then stoner/doom bands playing Sabbath was always a sure bet right? 8/10

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