Some years ago, Heineken ran a TV ad here in the UK which involved a woman running down a staircase with potatoes falling out of her blouse. I can’t remember precisely how it related to beer, but the message was something to do with taking things slowly, and this is advice I believe all musicians should heed closely. I like a gap of a few years between albums; I find it reassuring. Anything sub-24 months and I begin to get twitchy. This is probably wholly unreasonable, and I’m sure the AMG readership can think of a litany of absolute turnips that took years to write and record, but I simply can’t help it. I was a little put out, therefore, to discover that Witchery were planning to unbox their latest work, I Am Legion, a paltry 350 days on from the release of their crushing 2016 effort, In His Infernal Majesty’s Service. Fighting the urge to dismiss it as a rush job, and being the consummate professional that I am (hashtag sarcasm), I was nonetheless determined to set my reservations aside and give it a fair crack of the whip.
As someone with practically every twist and turn of In His Infernal Majesty’s Service seared into the front of my brain, the first thing that struck me about I Am Legion is how much rawer it sounds, both in execution and production. Witchery have traded in the grooves that came to characterize their last effort in exchange for another one-way ticket on the blackened thrash train, with spiky, abrasive riffs and spittle-flecked bile firmly the order of the day. Frantic, rapid-fire affairs like “Seraphic Terror” and “Amun-Ra” have Exodus and Slayer written all over them—the latter even featuring a feverishly Hanneman-esque solo a third of the way from the end—while mid-tempo musings such as “True North” and “A Faustian Deal” invite the listener to headbang themselves straight into the emergency room. It may be more stripped back than its predecessor, but I Am Legion is as uncompromising as ever.
While its thrash influences are on show for all to see, the record’s black metal elements are somewhat more understated, but no less effective for it. For the most part, they are expressed through a savvy selection of chord choices, and what this approach lacks in complexity, it makes up for by sounding genuinely fucking sinister, as well as injecting each track with a heavy dose of distinctive Witchery character. Despite all of this, however, I can’t escape the nagging sensation that I Am Legion just lacks the X-factor that made its predecessor so gleefully satisfying. While most of the tracks are perfectly enjoyable in their immediacy, there’s nothing particularly catchy about any of them. I’ve never bought into the argument that heaviness and catchiness can’t go hand in hand either; In His Infernal Majesty’s Service may have felt like being bludgeoned over the head with a mace, but it was still worming its way around my brain days after my maiden listen. On a personal level, I Am Legion simply does not generate the same kind of impact.
Another annoyance I feel compelled to draw attention to is the amount of filler utilized as well, be it in the form of introductory noodling, à la opener “Legion” and “Great Northern Plague,” or more drawn out affairs that never really get going, such as “Welcome, Night.” Now, for the record, I don’t object to subtlety or atmosphere-building in the slightest, but when one combines all of these segments together, as well as the dead space at the end of closer “The Alchemist,” it adds up to over eight full minutes, which is almost a quarter of the album’s total runtime. This sucks a great deal of momentum out of what is clearly intended to be a full-on, visceral experience, and while it is by no means a total deal breaker, it is an irritation that I find impossible to ignore.
I Am Legion is far from terrible, but while there are scattered glimmers of promise here and there, such moments are never fully capable of masking the album’s shortcomings. Fans of Witchery’s earlier material will likely approve of the band’s decision to revert back to a more classic sound, but as someone who genuinely loved In His Infernal Majesty’s Service, I can’t help but feel that I Am Legion represents a step backwards for a band that previously had an absolute stack of momentum behind them.