Witches Hammer – Damnation is My Salvation Review

Speed metal and Canada have a happy history together, and the top three connections are probably early Razor, Exciter, and the Banzai Records “Speed Metal” wheel. 2020 brings us a blistering reminder of Canada’s importance to speed1 in the form of reactivated British Columbia speed metal band Witches Hammer. They released a few demos and an EP in the mid-to-late 80s (all killer), and then went away. Shortly after the Hammer hiatus, founding guitarist Marco Banco proceeded to help define war metal as we know it today on Blasphemy’s Fallen Angel of Doom…. Now, adorned with the best cover I’ll see all year (definitely “blind buy at the record store” material), Witches Hammer have returned with Damnation is My Salvation and, if it does what it promises on the tin, we’re in for some world-destroying speed metal. I’ll spoil it now: Witches Hammer delivers.

When “Across Azeroth” opens the record, we’re hit with a barrage of blasts and speedy riffing informed by war metal. This changes quickly into something akin to Malicious Intent on (more) speed, although Rayy Crude’s vocals have a blackened edge that wasn’t there on the early material. The riffing develops and improves throughout the song, and the drumming keeps the intensity up while not becoming percussive wallpaper. The title track rips through the type of speed metal that makes Deathhammer tick: that glorious, hyper-aggressive 80s sound where the lines between thrash, speed, and black metal were still being drawn. The midsection practically crams another song in there, with a bass solo and some great lead guitar work. Compositionally, it’s not disjointed and transitions back into the “main” part of the song seamlessly. This is what I like about the current direction of Witches Hammer – it’s extreme music which liberally pulls ideas, riffing styles, and devices from other extreme bands without isolating or restricting itself to a specific subgenre yet remains speed metal at its core. If it’s fast, memorable, and heavy, Witches Hammer will stir it into the cauldron.

I say “current direction” because Witches Hammer rerecorded three old tunes (“Frozen God,” “Witches Hammer,” and “Deadly Mantis”) for this album. They’re not bonus tracks but a true part of the record, sandwiched neatly between four new songs on the front end and the grand finale of “Nine Pillars.” They work marvellously in the context of Damnation is My Salvation, and it sounds like Witches Hammer have made a legitimate continuation of their early sound. These songs are heavily indebted to Show No Mercy, especially the downright riotous “Witches Hammer,” which was clearly inspired by “Black Magic” and has a nearly anthemic chorus replete with classic 80s metal lyrics. I’m pleasantly surprised by how well these old tunes fit into the record. Reading through The Slayer Mag Diaries, the early Morbid Angel-isms of Abominations of Desolation permeating “Solar Winds” would have set the underground alight in the late 80s, and when it comes to this type of metal, that’s precisely what we’re all looking for, right? Another upshot of the inclusion of rerecorded tracks is showing that contemporary Witches Hammer absolutely holds its own alongside the old stuff. Well played, gentlemen.

The 80s nostalgia wave continues to go strong, and Witches Hammer helped make the music spurring on this nostalgia back then and are doing a bang-up job making it now. At a lean 31 minutes, Damnation is My Salvation takes full advantage of the benefits of brevity, sating but not overstuffing listeners. This is an earnest effort, one which will be in regular rotation for me this year and which sits comfortably beside Bütcher at the top of the 2020 speed metal pile. The production is exactly what’s needed, rough around the edges but professionally so, sounding real, live, tight, and potent. Crude’s vocals are a highlight, as he switches between convincing blackened rasps that would suit Aura Noir well, his Sheepdog-inspired vocals of old, and the odd growl when it fits. The songs are ripped through instead of merely played, and if you like speed metal Damnation is My Salvation is a downright electric listen. If you’re a dyed in the wool early extreme metal fan and want something that sounds like yet also holds its own against the foundational stuff, Witches Hammer should find themselves in your rotation immediately. This isn’t a bland retread or exercise in genre aesthetics – this is a new, vital speed metal album, bristling with energy and worth every second it takes to listen to, again and again.

Rating: 3.5/5.0
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 1141 kbps FLAC
Label: Nuclear War Now! Productions
Website: facebook.com/witcheshammerndhc
Releases Worldwide: April 25th, 2020

Show 1 footnote

  1. More excellent fast Canadian music: Slaughter’s Strappado and Infernal Majesty’s None Shall Defy. If you’re not familiar with these two masterpieces, you’re welcome.
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