Stormwitch is the Captain America of metal music: Perpetually out of sync with the times and what’s going on around them. Heavily influenced by the NWoBHM, they released their Walpurgis Night debut in 1984 just as the style was on the wane. They switched to a more commercial style on albums like 1986s Stronger Than Heaven as the thrash explosion engulfed the world. By 1989 they were dabbling in cheesy, ballad-heavy Euro-power as extreme metal was growing in popularity and the whole scene was on the brink of near annihilation by the Seattle grunge movement. Long story short: Stormwitch put out 10 albums at the wrong time and never broke it big or reached the level of fame and notoriety they might have deserved. Teutonic troopers that they are, they’re still plugging along1, and Bound to the Witch is their 11th full-length. It may also be their most timely release yet, as retro everything is still holding the metalverse in thrall. What better time to drop an album that sounds like it should have been released in 1980 in time for a tour with Maiden?
If you have a hankering for the true NWoBHM sound of bands like Diamond Head and Satan, this will deliver exactly what you’re looking for. Even if you never heard one note of their back catalog, you’ll feel immediately familiar and comfortable with what they’re doing here. This is slick, catchy, olde timey metal that almost induces a nostalgia overdose if you grew up loving the bands emerging from Britain in the early 80s. Opener “Songs of Steel” feels like a do-over of their debut with extra worship Saxon shoehorned in. It’s accessible and fist pumping, but restrained in that classy British way we Americans are genetically unable to replicate. It’s all about simple, rocking riffs and the nasally vocals of sole original member Andy Aldrian2, and it works quite well. The testosterone appropriately pumps up for “Odin’s Raven” which is a rocking little gem that could have appeared on the recent Saxon album and stood out. “Choir of the Dead” is better still, with a simple but irresistible chorus and just enough oomph to get the head moving.
The title track has a weirdly addictive magic that keeps me hitting replay as if the titular witch commanded it. The chorus hits me just so and captures all that 80s metal magic perfectly. “King George” offers an interesting lyrical take on the Revolutionary War and does so with a hefty dose of Iron Maiden influence. Andy’s vocals are a bit too whiny and all over the place here, but the song still works. “Ancient Times” is the heaviest of the lot with thick guitar riffs and some self-aware lyrics about being stuck in the past. Things close out with the nifty power ballad “Nightingale” which is an effective return to their goth-horror lyrics of old and a nice way to wind things down.
What impresses me most about Bound to the Witch is how consistent it is from start to finish. This is the best Stormwitch album in a long time and it captures everything that made the band interesting back in the day. Andy’s vocals have held up quite well over the years and he sounds energized and urgent. The guitar tandem of Volker Schmietow and Tobi Kipp is the real key to the album’s success, with a sweet collection of riffs and hooks that keep the songs moving and shaking. Though they never get all that heavy, they capture that NWoBHM vibe better than most bands attempting the style these days. There’s a classy, polished shine to the music and a certain elegance to the way Stormwitch approaches the style that resonates with me, being a product of that era myself. All that said, this is some moldy, oldy stuff with nary a trace of modernity present.
Bound to the Witch is a pleasant surprise from a band I never fully committed to despite crossing paths with them numerous times over the years. The NWoBHM is long over, but the style can still excite in the right hands. Here in the 4th decade of their existence, Stormwitch may finally be in the right place at the right time, if only to serve as one of the keepers of the NWoBHM flame (even if they aren’t British). Whether you love the old school of not, there are way uglier witches to be bound to. Worth checking out for sure.