Icarus Witch - Rise 4.5/5

Reviewed: 10-1-12


1. The end
2. (We are) the revolution
3. Rise
4. Asylum harbor
5. Coming of the storm
6. Tragedy
7. Say when
8. Break the cycle
9. Nothing is forever
10. Pray
11. In the dark
12. Last call for living

I’ve always liked Icarus Witch, but I’ve never loved them. The Pittsburgh natives have carved a respectable, even admirable, metal career over the last 8 or 10 years that’s been marked by consistently solid work, but few real highlights to differentiate themselves from the ever-growing pack of power/traditional/true metal purveyors in America. Quick, how many songs can you hum from the Icarus Witch discography? “Black candles”... “The sky is falling”... “Out for blood”... and maybe a few others for me. Until now. Again, nothing about Icarus Witch’s prior output was bad, far from it in fact. They were all good, solid, worthy efforts, steeped in 80s metal tradition with a firm dose of 70s obscurity and murkiness. But nothing about those CDs was enough to capture the underground masses’ imagination or vault the band into the new U.S. metal elite. Until now.

Just throw out the window everything you ever thought you knew about Icarus Witch. They have taken a hard right turn from their previous musical path, and are a decidedly more polished and all-around different beast than they were before. (The break with the past is graphically represented by the band’s unveiling of a brand-new band logo that is strikingly different from the stylized 80s metal font they used on previous CDs.) There’s been a significant infusion of new blood in the Icarus Witch camp, with only bassist/founder Jason Myers and guitarist Quinn Lukas being holdovers from the 2010 ‘Draw down the moon’ opus. New vocalist Christopher Shaner has a more powerful, versatile rock-oriented voice than his predecessor, but with enough grit and histrionics to keep the denim-clad longhairs happy. New guitarist Dave Watson is, I suspect, a huge contributor to the sonic transformation of Icarus Witch, given that he is credited (along with the band) with producing the ‘Rise’ CD, and also engineered and mixed it. And new drummer Tom Wierzbicky keeps locked into the pocket with Myers throughout.

All of these changes are manifested on ‘Rise’ in the form of a distinctly slicker, catchier, more song-oriented approach than you’ll remember from ‘Songs of the lost’ or ‘Draw down the moon’. Style-wise, the typical Sabbath, Maiden and Priest influences are still there, but this time they’ve been leavened with a healthy dollop of melodic metal a la Dokken or Fifth Angel, and filtered through a sheen of modern rock production sensibilities. Don’t be frightened by that “modern rock” phrase. Icarus Witch haven’t gone all Linkin Park on us. What they have done is distill their sound into a hybrid that maintains the power, fire and energy of classic heavy metal (just listen to those wicked Lukas/Watson tradeoffs and harmonies that pepper the songs) while adding an overlay of accessibility that should open doors to much wider audiences outside the narrow (and narrow-minded) Keep It True folks, most of whom had never really embraced Icarus Witch’s previous incarnations anyway.

Look, I’m one of those “Keep It True” folks, so believe me, I was skeptical too upon learning of Icarus Witch’s pronounced directional shift. That skepticism was not dissipated in the slightest on my first listen to ‘Rise’. I think my exact thoughts were something along the lines of, “Whoa, what the hell is this?” But then a funny thing happened. The more I listened to it, the more ‘Rise’ grew on me. Not just grew on me, but took over my heart, my consciousness, and my soul. What I mean is that once you dispatch your preconceived notions of what an Icarus Witch CD should sound like, and listen to ‘Rise’ with an open heart and open mind, you may discover to your absolute shock and surprise that you’re listening to one of the finest CDs of 2012. Such was my conclusion. I hear at least a half dozen songs that will vie for position on my year-end best of list, from the fist-pumping anthem “(We are) the new revolution” to the old-school ass-kickery of “Pray” to the infectious metal mastery of “The end” and “Coming of the storm” to the more restrained “Break the cycle” to the sinister Whitesnake-infused swagger of “In the dark”. It’s really a remarkable piece of work, with only the ballad “Nothing is forever” failing to light a spark in my blackened metal heart.

What really sealed the deal for me with ‘Rise’ was catching Icarus Witch live on the final 3 nights of the North American Assault tour with Widow and White Wizzard last month. The Witches obviously believe strongly in this new CD, as they packed no fewer than 8 tracks from it into their 10-song set (the others being “Black candles” and “Out for blood”). In a live setting (stripped down from the studio spit’n’polish), the ‘Rise’ material absolutely smokes. It packs a plenty heavy punch, but possesses a memorability, an exuberance, and a freshness that ignites the concert hall every night. Shaner sings his ass off, Lukas and Watson deliver scintillating backing vocals and shredding guitar solos and harmonies, Myers’ rumbling bass crushes all in its path, and Wierzbicky provides the thunder to offset his bandmates’ bombast. More importantly, the songs just work. You could look around the room and watch the converts fall prey to Icarus Witch’s thrall one by one as their 45-minute set unfolded.

Bottom line: I don’t usually go for melodic metal, but I’m an unabashed fanboy of ‘Rise’. The sonic transformation may be jarring, but it has left me genuinely excited and fired up about Icarus Witch. Call them sellouts if it makes you feel better about your own street cred, but beware: You just might find yourself eating your words if you give ‘Rise’ a chance. Once it seeps into your mind, it will never ever let go. You just may find yourself waking up in a cold sweat at 4 a.m., with a familiar melody and lyrics like “We’re trapped in the madness/I can’t believe it’s gone/We are, we are/ he lost in line on a march until the end” echoing through your subconsciousness. I have.




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