Witches – The Fates Review

It never ceases to amaze me how many metal bands can continue to release high quality material so late in their careers. This year alone has seen terrific releases from both Vulcano and Sinister, for instance, and I’ll now be adding Witches to this list as well. Admittedly, I’d never even heard of this group until AMG Himself recommended I give them a try, a decision I’ve become quite happy with over the past week. Led by vocalist and guitarist Sibylle Colin-Tocquain, this thrash group originally formed in 1986 and claim to be the first French band with female guttural vocals, an assertion I certainly don’t dispute. After releasing their 3.4.1 debut in 1994, the group would split up a few years later before reforming and putting out their second album 7 in 2007. Sibylle has since enlisted a new cadre of musicians from the French metal underground and is finally unleashing Witches’ third album The Fates to (apparently) knock the world on its ass while we’re all standing around waiting for normal life to resume. I can assure you that it certainly did the trick for me.

I went into The Fates expecting old school thrash metal but to my surprise, Witches sound a hell of a lot more like blackened thrash. A large part of this is due to Sibylle, whose raspy vocals are forceful and demonic yet entirely intelligible. She reminds me a lot of Tyrannizer from fellow blackened thrashers Nocturnal, though I actually think Sibylle’s vocals are even more impressive. Her and her bandmates are quite skilled at their instruments as well, with performances that are almost technical in the way they fluidly shift from crunchy riffs to loopy melodies to swift tremolos without ever missing a beat. As such listening to them is an utter pleasure, like watching a skilled gymnast perform feats you could never imagine doing yourself. Interestingly enough, the best example of this comes in the final minute of closer “Death in the Middle Ages,” where the band get progressively faster and faster until it sounds like Archspire have taken over in the last few measures. It’s one of those stupidly awesome ways to end an album that I’d wish we’d hear more often.

Of course, musical ability means nothing without quality songs, and fortunately The Fates has plenty of those as well. Opener “We Are” stands out right away with its addictive refrain where the track title is screamed several times over a quick tremolo riff that mimics the vocals. Late highlight “Off the Flesh” is even more enjoyable, with a technical and melodic main riff that recalls Revocation at their most catchy and playful. “Last Wishes” succeeds on a similar idea, while “Let the Stones Fall” excels with a unique melodic lick that worms its way into your brain until you’re mashing the repeat button like a zombie. Yet it’s the aforementioned closer “Middle Ages” that’s perhaps my favorite cut, with its acrobatic guitars buttressed by layered vocals that ultimately conjure the album’s strongest chorus.

Yet while early highlight “Black from Sorrow” offers some variety with its slow tempo and tangled main riff, a bit more rhythmic diversity (not to mention more guitar solos) certainly wouldn’t have hurt. Fortunately Witches largely redeem themselves by keeping the album as tight as possible. Only one of these nine tracks passes the four minute mark and most sit around three, ultimately making for a record that barely cracks 29 minutes. I’m quite fond of the production as well, with a clear and modern sound that allows Sibylle’s crisp guitars and vicious rasps to be heard in all their manic glory. I’d also be remiss not to mention drummer Jonathan “Sangli” Juré, who propels the album with plenty of airtight blasting and hammering beats.

Going into The Fates, I expected a decent old school thrash album and little more. What I got was a stellar blackened thrash release full of killer songs and carried by incredibly tight performances. Witches sound more pissed and inspired than many bands half their age and I have no doubt that fans of blackened thrash like Nocturnal (or even more traditional European thrash like Kreator and Destruction) will get a nice swift kick out of this. If nothing else, The Fates once again reminds us that regardless of how long a band has been around, there’s always the chance they have something truly incredible in store.

Rating: 4.0/5.0
DR: 5 | Format Reviewed: 192 kbps mp3
Label: Mighty Spell Records
Websites: witchesmetal.bandcamp.com | witches.fr | facebook.com/witches.fr
Releases Worldwide: June 5th, 2020

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