If you’re a stereotypical stereotyper like myself, Portland, Oregon is a city that brings to mind images of rain-soaked, tattoo-covered hipsters sipping pot-infused craft beer and cold brew coffee while they dodge cavalcades of Subarus, Priuses (Prii?), and bicycles on the march towards the many nearby hiking trails. Having visited the city several times, I can confirm that almost all of these are 100% true, but I’m beginning to think that the whole “Keep Portland Weird” idea is a coverup to distract from Portland’s true identity as a stronghold of — gasp! — SATAN! Hometown speed metallers Bewitcher are here with their second full length1 to set the record straight, and on Under the Witching Cross they boldly fly the Sign of the Goat above the City of Roses while uttering diabolical incantations in an attempt to transform the grounds below into the “Savage Lands of Satan!”
I’m sorry you had to read all that, but the Devil — via this album — made me do it. Mrs. Holdeneye can attest to the spellbinding power of Bewitcher‘s Venom meets Motörhead meets Kill ’em All package as she’s caught me performing acts that are well outside of my normal character while under its influence— think vacuuming, folding laundry, and smiling. Simple and brief, Under the Witching Cross is eight tracks of punky blackened speed with not a trace of filler to be found among its 32.5 minutes. Embedded track “Hexenkrieg” serves as a fine example of what’s in store with its NWoBHM-with-a-mohawk attitude and a chorus that won’t leave your head anytime soon, and it’s a testament to this album’s great strength: providing nasty, edgy music that’s also irresistibly catchy and fun.
The title track dials up the punk with a simple main riff and a gang shouted chorus, but then moves into some fantastic melodic leads that would fit on any classic Judas Priest album. The earworm choruses continue to pile up with the hard rock stomp of “In the Sign of the Goat” — a song that I’ve felt compelled to play nearly 40 times in the past two weeks — and the most quintessentially “metal” track I’ve heard all year in “Too Fast for the Flames.” The latter finds the band literally outrunning the wrath ov God with a sub-three minute speed assault that sounds like a blackened version of KeA era Metallica. I wouldn’t be surprised if Spirit Lemmy sets down his bottle of ethereal Jack Daniel’s in order to take notice each time the furiously irreverent “Heathen Woman” gets played. The album even manages to find time to fit in a couple of curveballs before it ends. “Rome is on Fire” finishes its reckless romp with a militant outro hailing emperors Caligula and Nero, and closer “Frost Moon Ritual” is an epic instrumental that wanders from traditional metal with soaring leads, to near-doom, to runaway speed, and back.
Bewitcher is a power trio led by vocalist and guitarist Mateo von Bewitcher. His riffs and leads carry the day, imbuing each song with its own unique character, and his maniacal vocals are the perfect medium for the band’s blasphemous message — one that succeeds in finding the perfect balance between fun and pure evil. Drummer Rand Crusher hammers away with rhythms that are constantly on the verge of losing control, and Andreas Magus plays some fantastic bass lines when the mix allows him to be heard. In fact, the loud master is the only criticism that I can level at Under the Witching Cross, but it can’t take away from the phenomenal quality of the album’s songs. Picking standout tracks is nearly impossible since each one is what the kids these days call a “banger,” but “Hexenkrieg,” “Too Fast for the Flames,” and “In the Sign of the Goat” are particularly lethal.
I didn’t set out to be a “speed metal guy” (especially since I recently confessed that I don’t know what speed metal is), but somehow I’ve managed to cover 80% of the albums with that genre tag thus far in 2019 (if I disappear after this, start the investigation with Mark Z.). Under the Witching Cross is a fabulously demoniacal manifestation of the genre, and the Evil One has my thanks for prompting Dr. A.N. Grier to hand this one off to little old me. Fiendishly fun, this is music that demands to be blasted, and it’s arrived just in time for hot summer night rituals.