Witchskull – A Driftwood Cross Review

The April 24 release cycle is an interesting one for me: three bands I’ve reviewed before are dropping new albums. Since we usually review bands we’ve reviewed in the past, and we also usually review one release each per week, this is a conundrum. I’m too olde and slow to review three albums in a week, but I think I can pull off two. And that’s good news: it means I can avoid what is likely to be another travesty from Road Warrior. Instead I can focus on local up-and-comers Traveler1 and Aussie rockers Witchskull. I almost didn’t review A Driftwood Cross: I wasn’t exactly enamored of the band’s first record, The Vast Electric Dark, and didn’t review their second, the only slightly better Coven’s Will. But one casual spin of A Driftwood Cross had me hooked.

Rough execution and even rougher vocals kept me from enjoying previous Witchskull offerings, despite the solid songwriting. While Marcus De Pasquale is gifted with a classic-sounding voice that harkens back to the burgeoning days of metal, his penchant for wailing beyond his abilities was a detriment to past releases. Here on A Driftwood Cross, though, he reins it all in and delivers a charismatic, near-perfectly restrained performance that elevates the songs rather than dragging them down. This is obvious right off the bat, as “Black Cathedrals” blasts into the night and leaves tread marks across your body while it does. Simple stoner metal riffing rattles the speakers as the rhythm rolls and De Pasquale nails his vocal delivery.

Witchskull pull no punches at any point on A Driftwood Cross. “Baphomet’s Child” carries on with the deliberate pulverizing of  our ears, while “This Silent Place” gives us a slight break in the form of cleaner guitar chords to open, with De Pasquale’s weird vibrato haunting us as he sings about being a black cat. The best song on the album is the NWOBHM-styled galloper “Dresden,” a fist-pumper that is sure to go over fantastically in a live setting, if we ever get those again. For two minutes it rages in unrelenting fashion before a shift to a doom tempo for the bridge and noise-filled solo, closing with a gallop that makes you want to run in fear. Even a song that starts off as a possible disappointment, the doomy “The Red Altar,” gets monolithically creepy at the midway point.

While De Pasquale has calmed down with his vocal delivery, he has not done so with his axework. Chunky riffs, great tone, and blistering solos fill A Driftwood Cross front to back, and while Joel Green behind the kit and Tony McMahon on the bass lay down stellar grooves and provide a tight underpinning to the songs, De Pasquale’s guitarwork is the clear star here. His solos are short and tasteful, and he’s a master rhythm guitarist. And with a quieter than average mastering job, there’s plenty of attack in every instrument, making the album a joy to blast. The deep bottom end and immense kick drum propel the head-nodding riffs perfectly.

I wasn’t expecting much heading into Witchskull’s latest – two meh albums in a row can have that effect – but A Driftwood Cross has to be one of the best surprises of the year so far. I love it when a band takes it up a notch, and Witchskull have taken it up a notch and a half here, delivering an album that I know I’ll be going back to many times throughout the year. There’s something to be said for the simplicity of old-school metal, and these guys have found the magic elixir this time around. Who could have guessed that the third time would be the charm?

Rating: 3.5/5.0
DR: 10 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps MP3
Label: Rise Above Records
Websites: witchskull.com | witchskull.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/witchskull
Releases Worldwide: April 24th, 2020

Show 1 footnote

  1. Who, unbeknownst to the band, had their album get released digitally two weeks ahead of schedule.
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