Thursday, October 20, 2005

Review: Witchkrieg - Dark My Way (2004)

Dark My Way

The term "pagan metal" has often been used to describe various subgenres of extreme metal that incorporate elements of black metal, death metal, and sometimes Gothic metal. Lyrics based on Satanic or anti-Christian themes tend to round out a band's "pagan" classification, though in fact very few of such bands are truly pagan in spirituality (not to mention Satanism being a Christian invention, not a form of paganism). Australia's Witchkrieg, on the other hand, redefine the term pagan metal - actually coining the phrase "Witch Metal" to classify themselves - in that the band members are in fact practicing pagans with a desire to create neopagan-themed heavy music. Dark My Way is the band's debut release, and though suffering from unpracticed production it serves to illustrate Witchkrieg's future potential.

Barb Ettridge is the trio's vocalist and main songwriter. Hers was the inspiration behind Witchkrieg, and several of the thirteen songs on Dark My Way deal directly with neopagan themes and issues. She cites Joan Jett as one of her influences, and I can certainly hear that punkish style in her delivery. What Barb has yet to master, however, is the ability to fill her voice with emotion. She has talent but tends to sound hesitant and apprehensive, at times even stumbling with tone and pitch. Exceptions are "Angel Flashes" and "Stand", where Barb comes across as emotionally involved and injects a shot of attitude and conviction into the songs. Besides the production woes, Barb's unmotivated vocal performance is Witchkrieg's highest hurdle to overcome. She shows flashes of being comfortable behind the microphone, and as long as she latches onto those moments and continues to grow her talent I suspect it won't be long before she'll come into her own as a solid metal singer.

Musically, Witchkrieg again defies the "standard" pagan metal description and takes a more traditional approach to their sound (sort of Motörhead meets AC/DC), though Gothic elements are used occasionally for atmosphere. Guitarist/drummer Andrew Old and guitarist Rob Prado provide the beats, riffs, and solos which lend Dark My Way the most potential. Both veterans of the local Sydney metal and hard rock scene, their experience is evident in the tight riffs and solid hooks that permeate the album. "Sea Change", my choice for best track on the album, has a ton of groove and a great beat that latches onto you with both claws. It's a fairly simple song but catchy as hell, with easy bass lines and fuzz-laden chords. The theme riff of "That Ain't Witch" is another highlight for me, showcasing the guitarists' rhythm and sense of melody. The only drawback to the music is the extensive use of distortion, which combined with the weak production leaves the music sounding very muddy. Cleaning that up and adding a bit of crispness to the leads will make a huge improvement to the overall listenability of the album.

Taken as a whole, Dark My Way is an okay album. The production issues are acknowledged by the band and I'm sure will not be a problem for future releases. Should Barb continue to develop her vocal skills, all will be well in the Witchkrieg camp. Don't write this band off yet, and keep an eye out for their next album.

Track Listing
1 Roses Are Black 4:04
2 In This Heart 4:31
3 Pentegram (Hexe) 3:57
4 Wrath 3:45
5 Fallen Angel 5:03
6 Sea Change 3:42
7 Cowan Town 3:20
8 Core 1:56
9 Angel Flashes 4:33
10 That Ain't Witch 3:08
11 Stand 2:47
12 Deviation 3:10
13 Out 3:22

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