Call Upon the Wicked
Seven Witches = King Diamond + Savatage + Golden era Judas Priest
Landing new vocalist James Rivera and plodding forward on their eighth album, New Jersey based trad-metallers Seven Witches offer up a veritable grab bag of heavy metal delights on Call Upon the Wicked.
Right off the bat, Rivera is a good fit for the band, seamlessly alternating between stratospheric Halford-esque wailing and a plunging Layne Staley drawl (check opener “Fields of Fire.”), and the band follows suit with their own blend of Priest style rocka rolling (“Call Upon the Wicked” and “Harlot of Troy” are dead ringers for Stained Class outtakes). However, the overall attack is varied. “Ragnarok” is a NWOBHM style romp through the apocalypse, “End of Days” (despite the brazen corniness of composing a song around a literal “Ave Maria”) is a brilliant nine minute epic, raking itself over the coals of Maiden’s “Hallowed be thy Name” and choral Mercyful Fate worship and “Mindgame” with its laughable refrain (“stop fucking with my head!”) is a heady thrash stomper recalling the burly call-and-response theatrics of Scott Ian and Frank Bello.
Snarky critics might be quick to point out the band’s tendency to tread rehashed ground, and Call Upon the Wicked, with its flat-ish production certainly isn’t a dynamic step forward…but musically its water-tight, it never sounds dull or tired and the band has easily found their strongest lineup to date. Rivera’s throated acrobatics keep things exciting, and vintage member Jack Frost’s guitar solos on “Ragnarok” and “Eyes of Flame” scratch metal fans right where they itch.
Ultimately the album’s only weak point is a completely unnecessary cover of Cream’s “White Room” tacked on to the end. Though earnest, and showcasing excellent axe-wielding on the part of Frost, it’s a dated song that doesn’t lend itself well to the metal camp…but any metal fan with a brain can see that this is a strong album with very little to complain about. (The digipack contains live versions of “Metal Tyrant,” “Metal Asylum” and “Jacob” as well. Bang yr head!). –Dylan Chadwick
Sourvein = Buzzov*en + Grief + Crowbar + Electric Wizard
Quoting Beavis and/or Butthead in any kind of academic work is never a good idea. I tried it once on a linguistics paper…the professor didn’t share my sense of wit. Still, when it comes to sludge metal, I’ve never found a music critic who’s been able to articulate the genre quite as well as Butthead, when in one particular episode upon watching the music video for Crowbar’s “Existence is Punishment,” he utters the deathless line (in his trademark lisp) “this music is slow and fat.”
Sourvein follows Butthead’s profound sludge paradigm to an throbbing T. Upon releasing their first proper full length since 2002, the band opts not to build any new bridges into unknown territory, but to stubbornly mine a groove in the swamp they’ve long since floundered in before…and this isn’t a bad thing.
“Society’s Blood” is fairly standard sludge fare, a gurgling mass of washed out guitars oozing over pained vocals (“he looks like he’s taking a dump!” –Butthead) while “Fangs” and “Night Eyes” are driven by coiling Sabbath-esque riffs that bubble and percolate before disintegrating into hissing breakdowns that stomp and sputter like a woodland animal, beaten senseless and thrown into a nearby pond. “Night Eyes” boasts deft drum work, “Holy Transfusion” with its bludgeoning wall of My War era ‘Flag atonality is an experiment in discomfort and endurance, while “Gasp” (the album’s clear highlight), with its oppressive atmospherics and hypnotic solo, draws it together reminding listeners that even if they’re not reinventing anything, they’re playing it to stained perfection. Cobble it together with muddied production and it’s an album devoid of frills…and filler.
For music so deeply rooted in the concepts of discomfort, alienation and pain, Sourvein hits the figurative nail right on its rusty head (they do hail from a place called Cape Fear for [Eyehate]God’s sake!) and for any heroin imagery their intravenous name inspires, Sourvein is anything but dopey. Think about a gummy hypodermic sliding into your arm, missing the vein entirely and plunging itself right into your squirming, emaciated muscle, or scraping itself tepidly along the surface of the bone. It’s not pretty, and it probably won’t win over any new fans…but for those already in the know? They’ll keep coming back over and over…and they won’t always know why. –Dylan Chadwick