For many all-time-great rock bands in the ascendant, the fourth album is often the point where youthful years of febrile creativity and progressive momentum culminate in a masterwork for the ages, setting the seal on an early signature sound while opening it up to future possibilities. From enchanting 2016 debut Prelude, through 2018’s assured II: Sojourn, to 2020’s wizardly III: Pentecost, each Wytch Hazel album has embodied that old-fashioned notion of unstoppable progress, and the glittering treasure chest that is IV: Sacrament proves eminently worthy of rising to the toughest challenge. Not just the Lancashire quartet’s most classically beautiful production, but their strongest yet front-to-back collection of affecting hooks and ageless melodies.
A very tough challenge it was, too; records this good don’t get banged out willy-nilly, and Jimmy Page, Ian Anderson and Freddie Mercury didn’t have to fit recordings in between day jobs and school runs. “This album has been a trial,” sighs founding singer/guitarist Colin Hendra with his head in his hands, his voice full of cold. “It’s been a tough few years for everyone, which plays into it, but it was exhausting. Working full time, trying to be a dad and husband, running the band, writing the albums – and being a complete control freak about every aspect of the process…” Colin breaks off and chuckles at his Eeyorish approach to album promotion. “But there’s no gain without pain!”
The triumphs and tragedies are written all over IV: Sacrament. Working closely again with regular producer Ed Turner, Colin’s God-given gift for diamond songwriting has been enhanced to majestic proportions with Ed’s Roy Thomas Baker doozy of a production job, his expressive sonic trickery sublimely underscoring the varied musical moods. “Me and Ed like the same albums, so we’re singing from the same hymn sheet every time,” enthuses Colin. “We love the Sabbath production, obviously Martin Birch, and the Queen albums; we want it to sound like Wytch Hazel, which it kind of always does, but we want it to also have that classic sort of quality.”
Colin describes his working relationship with Ed as “perfectionism amplified. We’re a good match but bad at the same time! It takes ages to get an album done, but if it’s going to be done we want to do it right.” The new studio looked promising: a converted Baptist chapel in rural Wales, chock full of vintage gear. However, with personal reasons forcing drummer Jack Spencer to step back from the band (subsequently departing in September 2022), Colin took on the additional laborious task of completing all the drums himself. As well as all the vocals, lyrics, lead guitar and drums to fret over, there were so many mysteriously blown cabs, amps and vocal cords you might suspect the Devil was trying to stop anyone else getting the best tunes. “I don’t know why we have such bad luck,” groans Colin. “Engineers were scratching their heads, like ‘how have you done this?!’”
Now Sacrament is finally offered – and sounds as fantastic as it does after all the blood, toil, tears and sweat – you might think Colin could finally bask in the glory of this resounding achievement, but he’s not even fully comfortable taking credit for his own songs. “When I listen back there are multiple times when I’m like, I don’t even know how this happened,” he ponders. “I know I wrote it, but I don’t feel complete ownership over them. It has that sense in which… there’s something else, and I’m a part of it.” On previous albums, specific influences were readily discernible, and although Angel Of Light tips a nod to Angel Witch and Endless Battle nails the sweet spot between Steeleye Span and Judas Priest, Sacrament’s ten songs zero in on a sound and style that’s all their own. With assertive, explosive earworms like The Fire’s Control, Strong Heart and A Thousand Years and the profound emotive magnetism of Time And Doubt, Deliver Us and Digging Deeper, Wytch Hazel revel in their distinctive Wytch Hazelness. Colin’s Christian faith continues to inform much of his lyrical outlook, but there’s a disarming openness and emotional force that might have you reaching for the Kleenex.
“It’s some of the most honest songwriting I’ve ever done,” Colin reflects, “and they come from a darker place, I think. I’m getting older, that comes through in some lyrics: ‘see my body breaking’, ‘I’m digging deeper’, ‘time’s running out…’ I struggle to see the positive a lot of the time, so the songs end up being negative, the subject matter coming from constant striving.” Among all the doomsayer tendencies, gorgeous sylvan acoustic strum Future Is Gold proclaims a radiant optimism, but it’s more hope in the eternal than an expectation of earthly improvement. “It’s rooted in scripture,” Colin explains, referencing the Book of Haggai: ‘the glories of this latter house will be greater than the former’. “I struggle to believe that half the time, with the state of the world, but who knows what level that is? Will the afterlife be better, when all suffering has ended, or is what we see as better not actually better? If things are always going comfortably, it isn’t always the best thing for us. An element of suffering is necessary.”
Suffering has clearly been necessary for the creation of the fourth Wytch Hazel album; let’s hope for Colin’s sake the next one requires a bit less. “I’ve blown my own mind a bit,” he concludes. “And even after all this painstaking work, I still feel like I’ve only scratched the surface of what we could be doing musically. I wish I could have a month to work on one song, and go on a tangent a bit. I will in the future, it’s going in the right direction. I’ll get to the stage when I can commit more time and do an odyssey or something!”
Arriving directly from a zone between dream and waking, the fourth album from Spell is here to weave its potent magick. Established as intrepid pathfinders on the journey of classic Heavy Metal into the mystic, Tragic Magic sees the Vancouver outfit honing their approach to seductive effect.
The turbulent two-year period following their triumphant third album Opulent Decay has steeled the resolve of a band who always operated according to their own co-ordinates: “These strange times have encouraged us to look up from the doldrums of our daily lives and reflect more critically on what we’re doing and why,” reckons Cam Mesmer. “For us, this involved stripping away a lot of bullshit to reach a more essential, distilled and purer version of what Spell is.”
This also involved the band becoming a duo for the process. Tragic Magic was written and recorded entirely as a collaboration between brothers Cam and Al (Lester). “And we couldn’t be happier about the result,” says Cam. “The identity of Spell came into sharp focus as it was always intended to be.”
This becomes clear when confronting Tragic Magic; the songcraft here is steeped in the atmosphere of the arcane, yet the hooks are more razor-sharp than ever as ten occult-tinged anthems seamlessly marry majestic bombast and otherworldly allure with gritty resonance.
Whilst influences like the esoteric charge of Blue Öyster Cult and the elemental expansions of Camel and King Crimson are wont to drift through these crepuscular melodies, Spell are as likely to be influenced by the life-affirming energy of ‘60s Motown as the ethereal dimensions of Cocteau Twins, or the strident woe of Candlemass and classic songwriting chops of Russ Ballard. Lyrically, the band also moves into different dimensions. “The themes on this album are more concrete, guided by personal experience,” reflects Cam. “Tragic Magic has to do with mental illness, ageing, the death of a loved one, the decay of time… this is what ‘tragic magic’ means to us – loss and tragedy outside of our control, which fundamentally alters our perceived reality”
Indeed, whilst the approach of this band has looked towards the escapist in the past, Tragic Magic sees them doggedly confronting bleaker forces in search of transcendence. “Life has gotten harder and less hospitable for many people lately, so it didn’t seem appropriate to flaunt excess,” notes Cam. “This album is our response to the world as it currently is: music for an ascetic age.”
More than ever, this unearthly brew sounds like no one else but Spell — gnostic rock warriors transposing their dark arts fearlessly and alchemically into the light. “Music is magic, and Spell is a spell. Fundamentally, it is a forum to make our dreams come true”
Southern California psychedelic/progressive rock outfit, Birth, will release its full-length debut LP, ‘Born’, on July 15
Featuring members of San Diego’s revered retro rockers Astra, along with current or former members of Joy, Radio Moscow, and Sacri Monti, Birth owns a cavernous cache of credibility rarely found in developing musical groups. Described as “a magic-eye journey into kaleidoscopic sound“, and “a dystopian take on the here and now” the group deliver a blast of vibrant progressive rock rich in cinematic scope and psychedelic intensity
Featuring guitarist/keyboardist/vocalist Conor Riley and lead guitarist Brian Ellis, musicians who burst onto the prog-psych scene in the late aughts with Astra, a formidable, foundational group hailed as “prog goliaths” (AllMusic) who would shape the sound of things to come alongside co-conspirators such as Earthless, Diagonal and Dungen, and whose albums ‘The Weirding’ (“a sublime debut that evokes various ’70s colossi – panoramic Pink Floyd, mellotron-era King Crimson, Black Sabbath in philosophical mode – without ever stooping to pastiche….” – Mojo) and ‘The Black Chord’ (“at a time when there’s so much creativity within the prog community, Astra have taken a giant leap forward…The Black Chord is dauntingly brilliant.” – PROG) stand proud as two of the greatest progressive achievements of this century thus far, there is a palatable excitement surrounding Birth and the group has been pegged as one to watch in underground circles.
“Life and death appeared to me ideal bounds, which I should first break through, and pour a torrent of light into our dark world”
So wrote Mary Shelley in Frankenstein, arguably the first science fiction tale. A full 204 years later, the quest remains – how best to elucidate our daily lives with some form of inspiration that moves the spirit beyond its earthly shackles?
On ‘Born‘, Birth musically and creatively constructs a science-fiction-inspired sound-world in which bleak tumult and skybound rapture co-exist. The result is an intoxicating album haunted by earthly concerns while its sonics aim simultaneously for the stars. “I’m a scientist by trade and I read a lot of dystopian sci-fi, which I believe is relevant to many of the events that have been occurring lately,” notes Riley. “These views feed a dark, spiritual and mystical relationship that I have with scientific thought”.
Far from the trappings of retro chic and fashion-aligned classicism, the five celestial serenades which make up ‘Born‘ stake their claim in a different headspace to most other exponents of the form. Certainly, it’s true that many of the audial shapes manifesting themselves here – the exploratory jazz-rock diversions, Mellotron and Hammond-abetted textures and the rich melancholia of the song-writing – may recall moments from progressive rock’s past and the listener may be forgiven for losing themselves in a gatefold-sleeved reverie. Nonetheless, this is a band which was thrown into life via the constrictions and temporal shifts of a global pandemic, as well as one which has largely set about chronicling a reality in which the surrounding world appears to be hurrying its own demise.
2.) Descending Us
3.) For Yesterday
4.) Cosmic Tears
5.) Another Time
6.) Long Way Down
Conor Riley (vocals, keyboards, acoustic guitar), Brian Ellis (lead guitar, keyboards), Trevor Mast (bass), and Thomas DiBenedetto (drums).
Drums on ‘Born’ performed by Paul Marrone.
Wytch Hazel’s stellar 2016 debut Prelude confirmed these Lancastrian apprentice wizards to be Britain’s most promising new hard rock band. Two years on, that promise comes to abundant fruition on II: Sojourn, an album that moves Wytch Hazel on from the innocence and exuberance of the debut to a darker, more profound and complex place, carefully wrought into optimum shape by the band’s singer, guitarist, songwriter and mastermind Colin Hendra. “I’m really into the idea of an album,” notes Colin. “I don’t do mix-tapes, I don’t listen to singles, I’m interested in albums. I want to make a good, listenable, cohesive work, that is the whole thing.”
Since the release of Prelude Colin has become a father, a life-changing event that may explain the greater maturity and equilibrium to be found within the grooves of II: Sojourn, “a concept album, but not in the traditional sense,” Colin explains. “It’s quite strongly themed: side A is ‘The Plight’ and side B is ‘The Victory’. It goes from negative subject matter to something far more lifted, almost yin and yang really. Sides A and B are different works, but they’re meant to be together; the light highlights the dark.”
This double-edged concept manifests itself most satisfyingly in the thematic ‘mirroring’ of the tracklist. II: Sojourn begins with tight, nervy headbanger The Devil Is Here and ends with the solemn chamber melodies of Angel Take Me. Insanely catchy swashbucklers Still We Fight and Victory both address themes of battle, but the former has a war-weary melancholy and the latter a jubilant surge. Wait On The Wind broods with the threatening darkness of the elements, while tender ballad Barrow Hill celebrates their beauty and peace. “I spent hours and hours painstakingly deliberating about how I wanted each track to flow into the next,” affirms Colin, “shuffling the tracks, working out how to organise it, the idea of the two sides, of yin and yang and the progression of light overcoming the darkness. I probably put too much stress into it, blood, sweat, tears and everything! But if I’m going to do this, I want to do it properly. I might as well not do it unless I’m going to give it one hundred percent.”
Asked what inspirations were brought to bear this time, Colin has good news, and even better taste: “I was listening to plenty of Judas Priest, Thin Lizzy and Wishbone Ash last year,” remarks the frontman. “This seems to be more of a hard rock album, where the last one was more rock-folk. It’s definitely more rock than folk!” The most crucial influence fully expresses itself via Les Paul guitars in sweet twin harmony through cranked Super Lead Marshalls – “Exactly the same type of amp that Thin Lizzy would have used,” beams Colin – a benefit of working in James Atkinson’s Hand Of Law Studio, a converted gaolhouse in Leeds. “We knew there would be a lot more great gear, more amps, more options,” enthuses Colin of this productive new work environment. “We were more prepared, we planned better. I had a lot more vocals to record on this album, pretty much every song has at least three harmonies, but James is a really chilled out guy, he made it easy for us. I had a very clear idea of how I wanted each song to sound, I thought about every single aspect. I probably over-prepared for this album, and it paid off!”
Wytch Hazel’s proud, avowed Protestant Christianity continues to set them apart from the occult hocus-pocus of their peers, and the very title Sojourn has a Biblical inspiration: “It’s used a lot in the Old Testament, people would travel somewhere to stay for a short period of time,” explains Colin, comparing the idea to Wytch Hazel’s development since Prelude. “We’re going to reside here with this sound for a while, and the next album might not sound the same. Come and have a listen to this aspect of Wytch Hazel – it’s a temporary stay. We’ll be here for a while, then there will be something else. I’m always writing, it’s a constant stream, but I’m always trying to raise the bar, because I don’t want the next album to be not as good as the other ones!”
On the 9th February 2013, four years ago last Thursday, we (Angel Witch) were in Bochum, Germany, on tour with Grand Magus.
In the dressing room Joseph and Tobias from the opening band Enforcer, played me the demo they had recorded with their other band CC Company and asked me if I’d be interested in putting it out for them.
And that was that! Bad Omen Records was formed….
Since then we have gone on to release records from Satan’s Satyrs, Wretch, Wytch Hazel, Spell and more… We even did a vinyl pressing of Witchfynde’s 1970’s demos – plus that CC Company demo came out as a 7” in the end.
The other day, reflecting on how four years can go past in the blink of an eye, I put together a few of my favourite tracks from the Bad Omen catalogue into a playlist.
Then I thought that I may as well give them away to anyone who wants to hear them.
I added a couple of unreleased smashers (Wretch pummelling their way through Motorhead’s “Sweet Revenge” and Wytch Hazel’s re-recorded version of their old favourite “Surrender”) and there you have it: DOWNLOAD HERE
I hope you like it,
Bad Omen Records
In the parallel universe where the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal happened 600 years early, WYTCH HAZEL are the band of choice for the discerning Plantagenet headbanger. The folk-rock eccentricity of Jethro Tull, the mystical harmony of Wishbone Ash & Thin Lizzy, and the exuberance of prime NWOBHM, immersed in sacred medieval influences via David Munrow’s Early Music Consort of London; on their debut long-player Prelude, Lancastrian hard rockers WYTCH HAZEL have happened upon an extremely singular and compelling alchemy.
For audio and pre-orders: CLICK HERE
Satan’s Satyrs will hit the road next week for a mammoth tour of Europe alongside Kadavar, The Shrine & Horisont. More info / tickets here
Satan’s Satyrs will perform as rotating main support with Electric Citizen on the forthcoming Pentagram tour of the East Coast.
All dates and info is HERE
On March 31st 2015 Satan’s Satyrs will take to the road once again for a coast to coast North American tour as support to the British doom behemoth Electric Wizard.
More info here
The Bad Omen winter sale is now on, with 30% OFF EVERYTHING IN STORE from now until midnight on 31st December 2014 (GMT).
Simply enter the code: BADOMEN30 at checkout for a 30% discount on all vinyls, CD’s & shirts (including some returned Satan’s Satyrs tour stock from their recent ‘Europe Dies Again’ run – available in limited numbers).