In case you ever wondered what a missed opportunity would sound like, here it is. Icarus Witch is a band I’ve always rooted for and I appreciated their late 70s/early 80s style of classic metal mixed with rock. With a sound pleasantly blending old Judas Priest, Alice Cooper, Helstar and Mercyful Fate, they’ve always had a ton of potential and I’ve always felt they were capable of that one truly great album. Time after time, their albums had a few good to very good songs but they could never string a group of gems together and record their magnum opus. There was a fair amount of buzz preceding Rise, mostly due to line up changes, including the unfortunate loss of vocalist Matthew Bizilia. With these changes comes a new, more accessible sound which leans further into the hard rock spectrum. That’s where the missed opportunity comes in. The new sound works really well and Rise features two or three songs that are head and shoulders better than anything they’ve ever done. They just can’t keep the quality consistently high over all twelve tracks and though they come close to a major breakthrough, they fall tantalizingly short…again. Though lots of albums come up short, it feels like they were right on the cusp of something special, but couldn’t quite get it done. I feel bitter, but I suppose that’s what I get for rooting for ’em in the first place. Note to self: stop rooting for these guys.
Things start out so damn promising with “The End,” it had me hoping for great things right out of the gate. New voice Christopher Shaner sounds like a cross between Ray Alder (Fates Warning/Redemption) and the guy who sang “Eye of the Tiger” for Survivor (stop laughing, you idiots). He has the hard rock vocals down and he has a nice tone. The song is straight up 80’s metal with hints of Armored Saint, Obsession and Heretic (yeah, like anyone remembers them). It’s catchy-as-fuck but still rooted enough in metal to let you respect yourself in the morning (and briefly again at dusk). Tracks like “We Are the Revolution” and the uber-hooky “Break the Cycle” have all the earmarks of slick, polished metal that could be on the radio if America wasn’t so lame. Also solid is the melancholy Rage for Order vibe of “Say When” and the much heavier “Pray” which has some ballsy, crunchy riffing.
The ultimate killer here is “Tragedy,” which even made it on my “best songs of 2012 so far” list. It’s a damn near perfect song with just the right blend of power, emotion and hook. It has a great Shadow Gallery/Redemption vibe, Shaner outdoes himself with some sincere and heartfelt singing and the chorus and riffs are designed to stick in your head. If they were capable of more material like this, we would be talking big league success.
So why isn’t this the next Operation Mindcrime? Well, there are just too many songs that fall flat or barely register. The title track is weak but does grow on you up to a certain point. Others like “Coming of the Storm” and “Last Call for Living” are blandly decent and “In the Dark” is just plain bad. The relative weakness of these tracks is made all the more glaring by the strength of numbers like “Tragedy” which show what these guys are really capable of. It’s just plain frustrating to find so much potential alongside so much filler. They should have just released this as an eight-track album and dropped all the marginal material.
Though I was quite aggrieved upon hearing about Shaner coming onboard, he won me over pretty quickly. The man can sing and his laid-back delivery gels well with the new musical direction. He never tries to overdo it, get all operatic or Geoff Tatey and that’s a plus. The riffs from Quinn Lukas and new axe Dave Watson are generally quiet solid. They craft some catchy leads (“Pray,” “The End”) and their solos are generally tasteful and compelling while remaining in the character of the songs, which are fairly straight-forward and simple.
At the end of the day, there’s some really good material here and a few top-notch songs, but it’s a mixed bag. I suspect some older fans will feel alienated by the new sound and perhaps by the new singer, but this is worth checking out, if only to poach the upper-tier material for a playlist. Sadly for fans like me, there are a lot of reasons on display to make me keep rooting for that big album in the future. Why am I such a glutton for punishment? Seriously, it’s like rooting for the N.Y. Mets. I’m not that kind of masochist, am I?!