BURNING WITCHES — Burning Witches (review)

BURNING WITCHES — Burning Witches album cover Album · 2017 · Heavy Metal Buy this album from MMA partners
4.5/5 ·
Though she already had two albums under her belt with the band Atlas & Axis, Swiss guitarist Romana Kalkuhl still had a dream to fulfil: to be a part of an all female heavy metal band. To that end, Burning Witches were founded in 2015 and have now released their 2017 self-titled debut album. For me it's gone somewhat under the radar since originally dropping in May, but I'm sure glad to have picked up on it now, since what we have here may just be 2017's best hidden gem of traditional heavy metal. The album was co-produced by Schmier of thrash metal band Destruction fame, who also provides some additional vocals on the track Metal Demons.

The sound heard on the album speaks volumes toward what kind of bands have influenced the musicians in Burning Witches. If the Judas Priest cover of Jawbreaker closing the album wasn't a big enough clue, then it's easy to hear the influence of Judas Priest in the sound of the band's original songs too. Though Jawbreaker comes from Defenders of the Faith (1984), I find myself thinking more toward Painkiller (1990) era of Judas Priest when listening to this album. For Judas Priest Painkiller has this really 'next level' feel about it. It was harder and faster than much of what they'd done before. Although this is Burning Witches debut record and the passage of time does make it considerably less revolutionary in 2017 than Painkiller was in 1990, the vibe it gives off is actually quite similar: there's definitely something extra here compared to what the typical heavy metal album in 2017 has. Something that gives Burning Witches a lot more bite.

In many ways the record seems written with a very classic feel to it, but in others its really quite modern, making use of strong production values to make the band's riffs hit as hard as possible and also featuring a pretty hefty dose of power metal, meaning the heaviest end of the genre that brings mind to German bands such as Grave Digger and Rebellion, as well as a few extreme metal elements via the use of some harsh vocals, found most prominently in tracks such as Bloody Rose and The Dark Companion, the latter of which, though it starts soft, is otherwise full of classic heavy metal galloping riffs.

The first two songs on the album do a good job of showcasing how well Burning Witches blend both heavy metal and power metal on the album. The opener Black Widow leans more on power metal, featuring speedy riffs but played in a decidedly aggressive manner, with a rawer sound than power metal is typically known for having. Then there band serves up their self-titled song Burning Witches, which is much more mid-paced but still heavy. This is where the harsh vocals first appear from singer Seraina Telli, but also some more high registered parts interlaced with them, which were also used in the opening scream of Black Widow. There are definitely times during the record where it sounds like Telli is channelling her inner Halford, with Black Widow especially coming across like it wouldn't have been out of place on Painkiller.

The song-writing continues to prove consistent across the album both in terms of quality and style. Burning Witches continually gives the impression that they're not messing around. There's no elongation of any songs (the longest is a little under five and half minutes), no needless progressive or symphonic elements and no bullshit. If the mission was to produce arse-kicking songs, then Burning Witches can consider themselves victorious. There's a lone ballad, Save Me, placed right in the middle of the release (which you can hear an acoustic version of if you have the Japanese release of the album), but even though ballads can often disrupt the flow of heavy and power metal albums that isn't the case here. It's actually just as good as anything else the band has included. Everything about the album says that it's heavy/power metal played with conviction and passion. It's real hard not to be won over by that.

That's what makes it easy to invest many repeat listens in it without getting tired of it. The songs are memorable, especially opener Black Widow, self-titled anthem Burning Witches, extreme edged Bloody Rose, speedy Creatures of the Night, and the playing right into the witch theme We Eat Your Children. All the songs are strong though; there are no low points here. The Jawbreaker cover is also pretty good too; Burning Witches certainly haven't disgraced themselves there. It's just an excellent debut in every aspect.
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