Seven Witches - Year of the witch 3.5/5

Reviewed: 1-21-05


1. Metal asylum
2. Year of the witch
3. Fires below
4. Cries of the living
5. If you were God
6. Can't find my way
7. Jacob:
Act 1: Whispers
Act 2: Voice of jacob
Act 3: Mirror to me
Act 4: Haunting dreams
Act 5: Jacob speaks
Act 6: Circles
Act 7: The prophet is you
Act 8: Dream or reality

New Jersey's Seven Witches may be the Rodney Dangerfield of American heavy metal. Maybe the problem is lack of consistency, both in terms of personnel (every position other than that of guitarist Jack Frost has been subject to an interminable game of musical chairs) and songwriting (Frost always includes a few chugga chugga Pantera type songs amidst the stellar metal rifferama). Maybe the problem is Frost's own chequered career, at least for those unfortunate souls who bought the Speed and Frost records. I was a bit surprised that 2002's 'Passage to the other side' did not make more of a dent in the metal community, as the addition of diminutive vocalist James Rivera (Helstar, Destiny's End, Distant Thunder) and a relatively strong batch of tunes surely rendered it the Witches' most competitive outing. Until now.

'Year of the Witch' is CD number 5 for Jack Frost and his merry mates, whose ranks once again include Rivera, back for a 2nd round behind the microphone. The ingredients of 'Year of the witch' are predominantly unchanged from prior Witches' brews. The band are still playing simple, no-frills traditional American metal, influenced perhaps most directly by the likes of Judas Priest and Dio, with an occasional nod to Rivera's old outfits. This time, however, the Witches have thankfully dumped the modern influences and gone for a strictly old-school approach, while incorporating more and catchier melodies into the guitar work. Equally importantly, they've come up with undoubtedly their finest, most consistent collection of songs. "Metal asylum" kicks off the proceedings in raging form with a lyrical homage to the metal gods of years gone by. "Fires below" is galloping speed metal lunacy a la "Rapid fire", a headbanger's delight. And "Voice of Jacob" is simply divine, with jaw-dropping melodies of sheer brilliance and classic metal hooks galore. Throw in some cool blue-toned band photography and a crisp, clear, punishing production courtesy of Mr. Frost, and we have ourselves a winner, ladies and gentlemen.

I enjoy this CD quite a bit; nonetheless, a few caveats are in order. First, Rivera's penchant for shrill, ear-piercing shrieks has always rendered him an acquired taste, and on this CD he pushes the boundaries even further. I have always enjoyed his voice, including his over-the-top stylings, but I know others who do not share my opinion. 2nd, the CD spans an all-too-brief 42 minutes. I'm not a fan of bloated 70 minute recordings, but 42 minutes is on the lean side, especially when the running time is padded by a mediocre, out-of-place David Ellefson-penned track and nearly 3 minutes of noises and voices in connection with the 16 minute "Jacob" suite. 3rd, well, the "Jacob" suite is an admirable attempt at expanding the band's horizons with a conceptual story about a child prophet. But the whispers and sound effects are annoying and the lyrics don't really gel into any kind of compelling narrative. At several junctures in "Jacob" I find myself wishing the band would quit screwing around and rock out. Notwithstanding these flaws, 'Year of the witch' is heartily recommended to fans of well played, pure, rugged heavy metal by battle-scarred veterans of the scene.




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