BEWITCHER - Deep Cuts & Shallow Graves

November 11, 2023, 8 months ago

(Century Media)

Mark Gromen

Rating: 9.0

review heavy metal rarities bewitcher

BEWITCHER - Deep Cuts & Shallow Graves

While it has been a couple of years since the stellar Cursed Be Thy Kingdom, apparently it'll be a while longer, until we get a new studio effort. In the meantime, here's an opportunity to dive deep into the early Bewitcher history, offering 17 cuts total, comprised of old demo cuts (a couple of which never made an appearance outside those original recordings), a pair of brand spanking new tunes and a rough cover of Mötley Crüe’s "Bastard". In the absence of anything new, this is manna to starving ears.

OK, a dozen of these '13-'15 compositions were packaged together previously, as Grand Rites Of The Wicked, a 2015 cassette compilation, limited to just 100 copies, on Heretic Fire Records, when the band was just a recording duo. Given the elusive nature (and limited fan base, at that time), not to mention the non-digital format, surely there's now a demand for vinyl/CD/streaming versions. Nine of these eventually were cut for the eponymous disc and two others are on the follow-up. Until now, "Hedgerider" has been exclusive to the aforementioned comp. Elsewhere, "Rebellion At The Gates Of Heaven" and "Trial Of Swords" have been unavailable, apart from the Wild Blasphemy demo (2013).

While hints of Midnight, Sodom, Venom and Motörhead can be heard sprinkled throughout the early Bewitcher catalog, the evolution of original ideas develops quickly. The tracklisting is essentially (although not completely) in reverse chronological order, beginning with the new stuff. First up is "Manifesting Darkness" a fuzz-induced, mid-tempo romp, sounding more refined than we last heard. By contrast, "Our Lady Of Speed", the other newbie, is recognizable as the gruff throat groove we've come to enjoy: "to revel in the Devil's heavy metal." Love the juxtaposition of the grimy, slightly over modulated "Bastard" to "Speed & Til You Bleed". 38 years earlier, the Crüe was hailed as an aggressive slice of metal, but once that first Betwitcher original blasts forth, shows just how far the genre has come and what constitutes "heavy" these days. Essentially a musical ode to the hooded/masked Ohioans.

The three song, Midnight Hunters demo (from 2015) runs in succession (no alterations to the running order). The titular choice drills a buzzsaw riff right into your brain, where it's likely to remain lodged, forever. Screaming guitars to close. A beefier bottom end and deep vocal greets the Motörhead-ish "Rome Is On Fire". Comparison isn't helped by having a lyrical mention of "the iron first." After a slowdown (and Latin phrases?), midway through, it's a relentless race to the end.

Next up, the entirety of the four song Wild Blasphemy demo (Dec. '13), including the otherwise unreleased pair. The title selection bounces along, sounding like Abbath atop infectious, punk fueled riffs. More vocal homage to Norwegian black metal legends with "Rebellion At The Gates Of Heaven", complete with lots of guitar interplay and simplistic snare bashing. It's not balls out, all out, as there's an effective change in dynamics within the construct. "Black Speed Delirium", also found on the full-length debut, is propelled by double bass drums and the first overt profanity. Amazing that such speed can still possess strong melodies. Feels like Venom revved up to 78 rpm. In retrospect, easy to see why "Trial Of Swords" got left on the proverbial cutting room floor. Not bad, but definitely the runt of the litter.

On to the Satanic Panic trio, their earliest material, dating from Sept 2013. Their signature tune is built around buzzing guitars (not yet fulfilling their evil heaviness) and what is essentially a blackened death voice. This first writing session produced longer compositions, as hereafter Bewitcher regularly kept things around 3:30, or shorter, yet two of these eclipse four minutes, including the "In the Night (The Cult Will Rise)" finale, which lasts 5:06, almost twice as long as some later offerings. Slow and sludgy to begin, eventually the headbanging ratchets out-of-control. Bang the head that doesn't bang, with a clean guitar solo, then a (temporary) return to a subdued, Black Sabbath gallop.

The concluding batch, 3/4 of which later showed up on albums, are a hodgepodge of one-offs. Punky "Harlots Of Hell" is a nitro funny car, tearing down the drag strip, barely under control, as the engine threatens to explode. Quick hitting, rudimentary "Hot Nights, Red Lights" is another nod to Athenar's clan, over is less than three minutes. "In The Sign Of The Goat" could almost be a Venom outtake, particularly with the abrupt shift from pedestrian tempo, to more aggro guitars. Last piece in this collection is frenetic/chaotic "Hedgerider". Over time, they've harnessed/molded such energy into more complete/lethal structures.

Quickly becoming an essential piece of history. Their own Garage Days (literally) revisited. Make sure you stop by too.

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