Witchking - Hand of justice 4/5

Reviewed: 2-6-09


1. Intro
2. Magic number
3. Greed and fear
4. Hand of justice
5. The third one
6. Planet is burning
7. Choice of masters
8. M impact
9. Mental trap
10. Metal grail
11. Doomsday

Poland's Witchking are a new band to my ears, but the members are no neophytes to the scene. Indeed, Witchking's roots stretch back near the beginning of the millenium in a cult underground thrash band called Rapid Fire. After 2 demos, Rapid Fire threw in the towel in 2003, paving the way for the formation of Witchking. Conceived as a pure epic heavy metal outfit, Witchking enlisted a screaming classic metal vocalist in the form of Tomasz "Tom the Storm" Twardowski, wrote a batch of Tolkien-inspired lyrics and recorded their debut in 2006. This 'Hand of justice' is Witchking's 2nd CD, and enjoys excellent distribution in the U.S. courtesy of Lance King's Nightmare Records.

I'm not gonna lie: Witchking's sound is right up my alley. It's guitar-driven unadulterated spikes'n'chains metal to the core, somewhere in the neighborhood of Sacred Steel, Rebellion, Wizard, Mystic Prophecy, and Grave Digger, but also perhaps owing a bit to acts like Winters Bane, Manticora and Iced Earth. There's even a touch of similarity to Witchking's own countrymen of Crystal Viper (for whom one of Witchking's guitarists, Meteusz "Gajdek" Gajdzik, also provides 2nd guitars in a live setting). There are no pretty ballads, no lush symphonic interludes, no frills, just 47 minutes of unvarnished true metal hitting you right between the eyes. The quality of the musicianship is excellent, and the songwriting is effective and sufficiently varied in tempos, riffage and melodies that the different tracks don't come across as carbon copies of each other. And the production job by guitarist Gajdek is crunchy, powerful and overall quite satisfying. For fans of this style of true metal, 'Hand of justice' is a blind buy. It covers all the bases. It rocks mightily. And it boasts some of the coolest, most striking cover art I've seen in some time, depicting a flaming chariot carried forth from the burning bowels of Hades by Satan's steeds.

The reviews and Internet commentary I've read concerning Witchking have focused an inordinate amount of attention on the somewhat polarizing vocals of Tom the Storm, so I'll weigh in here too. As I see it, there's an objective aspect and a subjective aspect to the critique. Objectively, yes, it is clear that Tom the Storm struggles with the English language. His accent is thick, his enunciation is flawed, and the lyrics are so awkward I found myself agreeing wholeheartedly with the line in "Magic number" where Tom the Storm screams, "It's bad translation." True enough. But let's be fair here. Lots of "our" bands from across the Atlantic Ocean gamely venture into the realm of English lyrics, despite lacking a strong grasp of the language. If you're going to ding Witchking on this point, then you also have to reject scads of talented bands from Italy, Spain, and Brazil, among others. Would you rather Witchking's lyrics be in Polish, like those of countrymen Monstrum? If you're saying "who?" then you're making my point precisely. Monstrum are a superb Polish band whom most diligent metalheads have never heard of for the very reason that they sing in their mother tongue, so international distribution of their CDs is virtually nonexistent. I'm happy to cut Witchking some slack on the language barrier stuff, and you should too, because to sing in Polish would be to condemn their music to anonymity outside their homeland.

As for the subjective portion, some have taken Witchking's vocals to task because he's a wailer. Let me put it this way: If you dislike the siren screams of Ralf Scheepers, James Rivera, Gerrit Mutz and Tim Owens (circa Winters Bane's 'Heart of a killer'), then you won't care for Tom the Storm either. But I think he does an excellent job, belting out his lines with a great deal of power and emotion. Sure, he could benefit from having a bit more control in his delivery, but his voice fits the music well. Your mileage will vary, so don't take my word for it. Hey, I like Gerrit Mutz's vocals too, so what do I know?

Leaving aside the vocals, the only other potential turn-off I can see is the lack of originality. But here's the thing: If you're into the underground, Keep-It-True kind of metal, then originality shouldn't be high on your list of priorities anyway. Bands in this particular sub-genre really aren't reinventing the steel. That's part of their charm, and part of the deal. Personally, I could care less about originality in the true metal sphere. All I ask for are strong songs and performances, all infused with metal heart and metal spirit. With monster tracks like "Doomsday", "M impact", "Magic number", and "Greed and fear", Witchking comes through big-time on these metrics, so count me squarely in their camp.




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