Witchskull’s debut album The Vast Electric Dark (Self-release) was one of my personal highlights of 2016. A Stoner-influenced romp that was catchy and steeped in good old Heavy Rock, it picked up the Clutch template and somewhat irreverently tossed it around the ring a few times.
Two years on, how does the Australian trio follow it? Well, in much the same way, but there’s an added element of Psychedelia to second album Coven’s Will (Rise Above) and a blistering power, both aided by a beefed-up production. Opener ‘Raven’ possesses a riff that pummels almost as hard as Joel Green’s colossal stickwork, whilst Marcus de Pasquale’s permanently high-pitched yet gravelly vocal is given wonderful oscillation. In what is a brief opening salvo, de Pasquale’s dazzling leadwork provides the relief. The ensuing ‘Son Of The Snake’ shows a slightly different side to the band, a seductive change in pace and the first of a few vocal contributions from Sanhedrin’s Erica Stoltz, rivaling de Pasquale’s pitch and adding a cleaner element. More lightning leads and Tony McMahon’s thundering bassline take the track to a ripping second half that will have smoke coming out of your ears.
‘Priestess’ also comes out in a more pensive mood, and it becomes evident that Witchskull Mk II is less about the hooks and more about songcraft. The vocal performance is stunning and when the track again moves to a pacier, vital latter stage it shows that the new-found versatility has not resulted in a sacrifice of might. The initially monstrous groove of ‘Breathing Blue Light’ sees jaw-dropping switches in pace, dictated by that fantastic rhythm section, whilst ‘Demon Cage’ brings to mind another Cage – that of the Rusty, Soundgarden variety: the sound is as immediate, as intense, the pace urgent and creating a similar tension.
As ‘Spyres’ kicks the door off the barn without breaking mid-pace, the realisation dawns on those of a certain age that this is the reason we fell for Heavy music in the first place. Alan Hansen described his ideal football as “pace, power, penetration” and there are bucketloads of all three here: heavy as a sarsen stone, as elegantly speedy as a Charlton through the midfield, as exciting and deadly as a Ronaldo. ‘Lord of the Void’, meanwhile, rollicks along like a bastard before cruising to a mid-paced, crushing canter, leading to closer ‘The Empty Well’ which starts out all ‘Dazed and Confused’ then drops to the delicate dreamworld of ‘Planet Caravan’: fluctuating between the two until sinking to a curious, looped finale which shows another new side to the band: they’re going to keep you guessing…
Quite simply this is a flawless album, one that takes the footprint of The Vast Electric Dark and decorates it with loud, controlled splashes of light. I didn’t think Witchskull could get much better: it seems they just have.