2018 was the year Steel Druhm paid way more attention to what was going on with Bandcamp. I monitored what writers and readers were buying and recommending and found a few gems along the way. My favorite was II: Sojourn, the sophomore outing by U.K. retro rockers, Wytch Hazel. To envision the band’s style, imagine DNA extracted from Thin Lizzy, Jethro Tull and Pagan Altar and fused into a test tune baby which is then subjected to heaping helping of Slough Feg and High Spirits in utero. In a nutshell, that means riff-driven throwback rock with equal parts class and catchiness.

What makes II: Sojourn stand out is the wonderfully old timey atmosphere. It truly feels like an album out of time, like some mysterious and forgotten treasure you discover some 30 years after its release. As soon as opener “The Devil is Here” kicks in you’ll feel like you’ve been transported back to the late 70s proto-metal scene, just as Iron Maiden was finding their legs. Thin Lizzy-esque galloping riffs presage the coming of metal as we know it, and the smooth, soothing vocals of Colin Hendra are the perfect fit for the laid back but driving leads. There’s an air of folk rock at the album’s core and you’ll be reminded of Jethro Tull repeatedly as the album unfurls, especially when somber power ballad “Barrow Hill” arrives. Though it’s hardly a heavy platter, cuts like “Save My Life” and “Slaves to Righteousness” bring enough moxie to keep things dynamic and reasonably energetic.

Colin Hendra and Alex Haslam sling some slick leads and harmonies, taking to the sounds of the past as if born to them. Every song features their keen riffing and trilling and this is the real star attraction. Hendra’s vocals remind me of a smoother Brian Ross (Satan) mixed with a less eccentric Ian Anderson (Jethro Tull), and his chilled out delivery imparts an off-the-cuff, relaxed energy to the music that fits the era they draw influence from. For a bunch of youngsters, they certainly know their musical history inside and out.

II: Sojourn strikes me as the album that comes before a band drops a truly killer opus. It’s not perfect, not every song hits a home run, and I wish it was a tad more aggressive, but it’s still one of the most entertaining and authentic retro metal albums I’ve heard in a while. It keeps creeping back into my headphones despite the perpetually pressing need to hear and review other things. That’s the sign of an album with hooks and legs. Don’t sleep on the Wytch.

Tracks to Check Out: “The Devil is Here,” “Save My Life,” and “Barrow Hill”