After releasing two albums and an EP under the Witch Hazel moniker, the York, Pennsylvania quartet has rebranded as SpellBook. Their first album under this new moniker, Magic & Mischief (Cruz Del Sur Music), doesn’t deviate too far from their established Occult Rock style. There are a multitude of Seventies Rock grooves fitted with a slight Doom crunch that is quick to recall their contemporaries in groups like Lucifer, Demon Eye, and Icarus Witch.
But with that established, the band uses the rebranding as an opportunity to inject a little more Classic Metal into the proceedings. This is made apparent right off the bat as ‘Wands To The Sky’ is driven by a gallop in line with Paul Di’Anno-era Maiden while ‘Ominous Skies’ has a hint of Mercyful Fate in the guitar work. Even the more Rock-leaning tracks like ‘Black Shadow’ and ‘Motorcade’ put in a little extra oomph.
The band also finds plenty of avenues to play up their atmospheric side. ‘Not Long For This World’ and ‘Amulet/Fare Thee Well’ are my favorites in this regard, the former delving into the depths of theatrical Doom with a jovial swing and the latter bursting out a spooky singalong in bombastic Ghost fashion. The closing ‘Dead Detectives’ ends up being the album’s biggest curveball; the group was no strangers to long runners in the Witch Hazel days, but the Noir framing complete with drifting bass, lounge piano, and periodic spoken segments is certainly something else. It admittedly feels rather out of place but it’s the sort of weird outlier that I find myself enjoying.
This extra heaviness is further demonstrated by the heightened musicianship. The guitar and bass tones sound hefty and the drums hit harder courtesy of the lively production job while the keyboards do a good job of further fleshing out the atmosphere. On the flip side, the vocals may take extra time to feel out. The Ozzy-esque wail is serviceable enough but the near-constant shrill may grate on some listeners. ‘Dead Detectives’ thankfully brings in some nuance, but one can imagine the music benefitting from even more of it elsewhere.
Whether you see Magic & Mischief as the SpellBook debut or another Witch Hazel album, it makes for an enjoyable Occult Rock romp. The Seventies Rock style is well worn, but the extra heaviness and broader theatrics work to give it extra appeal. It is easily the strongest album that this group of musicians has put together thus far and makes a strong introduction for newer listeners. Sometimes all a band needs is a good clean slate.
8 / 10