What’s this? Someone other than Dr. A.1N.2 Grier reviewing a Mercyful Fate-worshiping release? Say it ain’t so! Well, sorry for all you King Diamond weenies, but it’s true. With the good Doctor tied up on other things, it falls to me to tackle this new album from Spain’s Witchfyre. Well, not all that new: in fact, Grimorium Verum has been languishing deep within the recesses of Record Company Hell for two years now, waiting for the day it could be unleashed on the public. That day is now, courtesy of Fighter Records, and it is up to me to break down this NWOBHM offering — is it good retro? Is it bad retro? And do we need another King Diamond-loving singer?
Right away we are sprayed with a nasty dose of cheese in the form of a lame voice-over intro. That’s ten seconds of my life I’ll never get back. Thankfully, neither “Devil’s Child” nor anything else on Grimorium Verum is that cheesy, as we head straight into old-school 80s-style metal, with frantic drumming and guitars, and singer Emi Metal (yeah, they use lousy made-up names, you know, like King Diamond) assaulting us with his schizophrenic tenor. Musically, what stands out is the guitar work, courtesy G.G. Andrews and L. O’Witchfield.3 “Lord of the Underworld” is of a similar cut, but with an Iron Maiden-esque gallop and a melodic central riff, while the cutely-named “No Rest for the Witched” brings a vaguely Judas Priest feel to the proceedings as if it were an outtake from Stained Class. The sound and style fit right into the mid-80s, and in fact, whether they know it or not, Witchfyre owe more stylistically to Tokyo Blade than Mercyful Fate. It’s enthusiastic, somewhat commercial, guitar-driven music, marred only by iffy vocals.
Those iffy vocals, while at times decent, are just too varied to be effective. Case in point: “Behind the Wall,” where Emi Metal uses no less than five different voices, none particularly enthralling. Luckily that’s an exception, and for the most part, the vocals are acceptable at best, minorly annoying at worst. Musically, Grimorium Verum gains momentum as it progresses: the best songs come towards the end, including “Night Hunter,” with a rock-solid, driving riff, “Queen of the Night,” the longest song (which could have been edited down a minute) featuring more excellent rhythm guitar work, and “Samhain,” which closes the album in straightforward, palm-muted fashion, with a bridge made for live shows and the same consistently good guitar solos that are present throughout. All these songs showcase Witchfyre at their finest, with less emphasis on vocal histrionics and more on balls-out metal.
Aside from the hit-and-miss vocals, the biggest flaw on Grimorium Verum is the kick drum, which is way too loud in the mix for this style — so much so that it detracts from the musicality of the songs at times. Lower in the mix, but with a thicker bottom end, would be more in line with what Witchfyre are going for. Otherwise, the album’s sound fits right in with the milieu in question. It’s heavy on the guitars, the mix is aggressive, and the vocals are on top of everything, attempting to carry the day.
What entered my queue as a possible King Diamond knock-off actually ended up to be a bit more varied than that, and yes, Grimorium Verum is probably a 4 out of 5 on the Grier Scale of Mercyful Diamonds, but Witchfyre wear their other influences much better. Despite the occasionally off vocals, I found myself enjoying this album more than expected. The record builds momentum as it progresses, and after multiple listens, leaving me happy that I stole this from the fanboy hands of Grier and got to dig into it myself. Much like something else I can’t talk about while there’s a lawsuit pending, Grimorium Verum is kind of sloppy, but a lot of fun.