Witches Hammer is a five-piece thrash band from North Delta, Canada that incorporates blackened and occasionally sped up NWOBHM (New Wave of British Heavy Metal) elements in their music. This freshly reformed group takes no prisoners with their latest release Damnation Is My Salvation. They are an interesting case as they initially started in 1985, last recorded 16 years ago and in fact, have never put out a full-length album. That being said, Witches Hammer has been influential in the Vancouver metal scene as their lead guitarist Bianco would go on to play on Blasphemy’s infamous Fallen Angel of Doom record. A band that has previously only released EPs and demos have come out swinging hard with their first full-length. It is aggressive and in your face; empowering and caked in dirt.
A few of the tracks off this album are older tracks that have been re-recorded and the rest are newly written pieces. From audio alone, I would not be able to tell you which were which as the album has a superb flow as well as variety. This album is, at its bare bones, a thrash record but both vocally and tonally, heavily influenced by black and death metal. To top it off from time to time we are treated to some tasty melodic riffs and leads that are vividly reminiscent of Iron Maiden or Judas Priest. Although at a different time this style of music would be a slight variation on a popular style of metal, in 2020 it is one of the most underrepresented styles out there. Additionally, that Witches Hammer performs such a unique style of thrash, it is a welcome aberration.
The album is fast, the drumming and guitar work blistering, unrelenting. The vocals, a high pitched rhythmic retching that tears at the ears. Every single member of the band is worth their weight in salt as the recording is tight and no holds barred. If I analyse individual riffs part for part the album does not seem that unique at first, but the pieces add together to create a unique texture that sounds like no other thrash record I have ever heard. I think it has something to do with the vocal style as well as the instrumental tones and final production quality of the album. With all these elements combined the album has a grit to it that I haven’t felt since I listened to one of my favourite thrash albums of all time R.I.P by the Swiss trash legends Coroner. I wouldn’t say the albums sound alike but they certainly produce a similar feeling in me. The biggest similarities come in the morbid aura that emanates from the music, as well as the insane guitar work.
Among my favourite tracks off the album, one has to be the previously teased “Solar Winds” which has an epic, heavy metal style melodic riff that punctuates the piece from time to time as well as a death metal midsection. Great combo. Track four, “Within the Halls” might be one of the hardest hitting of the album, littered with grinding old-school death metal riffs. Track five and six (“Frozen God” and “Witches Hammer”, respectively) are about as NWOBH as they come, the smell of hair spray and spandex is palpable. I find this album gets stronger as it progresses. The first track might be one of my least favourite while the final might be my favourite, which leads me neatly to my most notable and longest track of the album “Nine Pillars”.
The piece, which begins as full-on blackened death metal in the vein of Deströyer 666, before long descends into the musical equivalent of a hail of bullets coupled with the apt screams that would accompany a dying soldier as his body crumpled under a deadly mesh of hot lead. The song’s disturbing quality withstanding, the music also inspires one to rip off one’s shirt, pour beer all over one’s naked body, and walk around the room beating one’s chest (I guess that’s still a bit disturbing). If after both those analogies you feel somewhat aroused, I would seek medical help, I have my appointment on Monday. I think what I am trying to say is this track rocks.
I would have to be crazy to not recommend this album. Not only because it is a call-back to music that is not heard much these days, or because it is drenched in nostalgia, reminiscent of musical styles that form the foundation for my musical taste today but most importantly because it is a thoroughly fresh and original thrash band and should be listened to on merit alone and not on any musicological or nostalgic whims. Witches Hammer: go check ‘em out.
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Go grab a digital copy or CD of Damnation Is My Salvation on the Nuclear War Now! Productions Bandcamp page.