For a quality so inextricably linked with metal, at times heaviness can be a difficult characteristic to define. For some it’s all about sheer volume and noise, whereas for others, myself included, attitude and the weight of feeling behind the music are key components. Every now and then, however, a record will come along dripping with such malice and vitriol that it nullifies any need for a debate on the matter entirely. Where In His Infernal Majesty’s Service is concerned — the latest offering from Swedish blackened thrash metallers Witchery — such a description could not be more apt. Put simply, this record is heavy as fuck.
Since their inception in 1997, Witchery have released five studio albums and an EP, and although I’ve always found their music perfectly serviceable, nothing they’ve done before has ever really blown my socks off. While I was mildly curious to give their new album a spin, I had my expectations held firmly in check. In the end, such caution proved unnecessary, however, as they’ve finally found their X factor; In His Infernal Majesty’s Service is an absolute beast of a record.
Since the release of their last studio album — 2010’s Witchkrieg — Witchery have undergone a few lineup changes, getting through two vocalists and seeing longtime drummer Martin Axenrot (also of Opeth and Bloodbath) leave to concentrate on other projects. After a brief five-year stint on vocal duties, medical issues forced former Dark Funeral frontman Emperor Magus Caligula to part ways with the band, with Nekrokraft frontman Angus Norder drafted in as his replacement.
One of the issues I’ve always had with Witchery is that, for me at least the vocals just never quite hit the spot. I always found them to be lacking the gusto necessary to compliment the band’s high-energy, at times almost rocky style. The recruitment of Norder was a masterstroke then, as his raspy cackles sound terrific, giving the entire record a wild, unhinged quality that is as malevolent as it is infectious. Ferocious openers “Lavey-athan” and “Zoroast” are just two of the most solid examples of his work on the album, however, his performance is consistent from start to finish. While in the case of some records metal vocals can feel like a bit of an afterthought, IHIMS would be much poorer indeed without his contributions.
Long-serving guitarists Richard Corpse and The Haunted’s Patrick Jensen, along with bassist Sharlee D’Angelo — also of Arch Enemy and formerly Mercyful Fate — put in a resoundingly solid performance from the first track to the last. Whether playing in the rapid-fire mode of “Netherworld Emperor” or with the kind of thrashy groove showcased in “Feed the Gun” and “In Warm Blood,” they craft riff after crushing riff, sounding indubitably violent while still managing to retain an energetic, almost danceable quality throughout. While it must be said that there are perhaps a couple of tracks that aren’t quite as strong as the rest of the field, at no point does IHIMS become stale or uninteresting. When the solid instrumentation and gleefully wicked vocals are coupled with production that has oodles of crunch, however, everything combines to create a record that sounds heavier than the sun, without at any point losing its distinctive character or descending into an all-out wall of noise.
While I always try my best not to pre-judge what a record is going to sound like prior to firing it up for the first time, I freely admit that I wasn’t expecting greatness here. I figured that if the band hadn’t released anything that really took my fancy in almost two decades of trying then, realistically speaking, this probably wasn’t going to change anytime soon. How wrong I was. With a freshly rejuvenated lineup, Witchery have written and executed an absolute monster of a record that is as subtle as a shovel to the face and absolutely bags of fun for it. Almost 20 years in the making, In His Infernal Majesty’s Service is proof that good things can and do come to those who wait. Or stumble across them by accident while writing for a metal review website.