Witchcryer - Cry Witch
If you read our previous write-up of catching WItchcryer live, you will remember my unabashed fandom of their live show. They make their return to Negalithic with Cry Witch, their first full length album, and you may be wondering how they fare now that my brain is not gently liquified by the excesses of volume and alcohol. And I would have to say the cold rational light of day reveals something even more amazing. It is an album that could have relied on the power of Suzy Bravo’s vocals to succeed, but this is a whole band effort with some incredible songwriting and a cauldron full of memorable riffs.
I’m going to make an abstract comparison here, but Bravo’s vocals remind me of Fairport Convention’s Sandy Denny. No in the sound so much - although they share power and range, Denny was more clear and crystalline while Bravo’s have a little more whiskey and grit - instead what they share in common is the ability to take a well-oiled machine of a tight band and take it to the next level - to move the whole thing into the transcendent. We are firmly in the realms of Sabbath-y traditional metal here, but this band can take those retro influences and sound fresh. Too often a retro approach is an excuse to neglect the songwriting, but here the songs are as good as you could hope for. After listening to this album for a week or so, there are a dozen great melodies that stick in my head.
Take for instance "The Preying Kind". It is an epic doomcrusher of a song, that makes a repeat performance from the band's demo EP, along with Ricochet and The Great Divide. “Preying” starts with a slow riff, slow doomy curtain chords that are soon doubled by lead lines. As we move into the first verse, Bravo sings along with staccato guitar chugs, letting her voice glide a little at the end of each line in order to hint at what is to come. As soon as we take a second pass through, Bravo modulates up and is ready to soar. And in the chorus she just opens up with an amazing Dickinsonian vibrato. This song along with "The Great Divide" provide two tentpole songs for the album, and you’d have to threaten me with eye of newt before I’d say which is the more powerful.
Muxlow’s guitar playing throughout is understated. He often echoes Bravo’s soaring vocals, but rarely shows off, and much of the time his lead lines serve to build out the architecture of the song. His solo’s are singable - a much undervalued quality - as when harmonized guitar lines give way to something more visceral on "Ma Kali", which ends as it began with a toothy bass solo. There is a lot of depth to the arrangements, and the band can do a lot with a single riff. "For the Slave" for example, takes an ‘Out of the Blue’ style melody and watches it warp through changes as an outro jam.
Thematically, the songs deal with the power balance between the oppressors and the oppressed through a number of different filters - colonial power, gender, race, religion. Always present is the sense of resentment and the desire to command one’s own fate. Agency is taken where you can find it, whether in revenge or suicide, if your death is the only thing left you can control. It’s made most manifest in "Ma Kali", which pays homage to the goddess who embodies creation and destruction. For every "Cry Witch" vow of vengeance there is an atmospheric nod to Sabbath's "Embryo" or gentle "Lapis Philosophorum" to provide motherly contrast, and if you can live through the tempest, you can find yourself some measure of peace. And lest you should think this is starting to sound like some Women’s Studies essay, you get the big ironic wink in the form of the eponymous Witchfinder General cover, which not only provides some equal time for the Witchfinder (before he gets strung up), but it’s also a great excuse for the band to cut loose, and features a nice face-melter of a guitar solo.
As a final pedantic aside, one other thing I love about this album is that it is not compressed to hell. I’m not a meticulous audiophile, but a couple of great albums this year I just find fatiguing to listen to (I’m looking at you Elder). On my review copy at least, there's bags of dynamic range, and it just adds to the fact that the album is a damn pleasure to listen to. This is my album of the year so far, and although I’m expecting some strong competition coming soon (Destroyer of Light, Venomous Maximus), I can’t see it not making my top five come list making time. Ten stone-pressed puritans out of ten.
Suzy Bravo – Vocals
Jason Muxlow – Guitar
Marilyn Monroe – Bass
Javi Moctezuma – Drums