Blackened thrash pioneers Witchery have once again arisen from the coven to bestow on us their latest filthy creation from their cast iron cauldron residing somewhere on the icy southern Swedish coast. Nightside is a dirty foray into wickedness, darkness, and evil that grooves, thrashes and smacks you right in your grill. These crafty Nordic warlocks will cast a spell on you that will undoubtedly result in endless headbanging and you'll love every minute of it.
This is a slightly different type of Witchery record. Nightside, believe it or not, is a concept record. As guitarist Jensen tells us: "…'Witching Hour' has finally arrived…This, the opening track of the new concept album Nightside, kicks off a story of unreal nightmares, demonic possession, inquisitional witches' trials and then dives into the really dark stuff. First try for us to create a concept album and we are very happy with how it turned out. We worked hard at creating songs that followed the dramaturgy of the story (which was more work than we ever realized, but a challenged we accepted and overcame!). We're pretty sure that 'Popecrusher', and now 'Witching Hour', will pique your interest in hearing the full story of Nightside!"
As such, listeners will get to hear an entire story about the band's namesake and all the horror that comes with it. What really gets me about the record is that while the entire LP certainly acts as a coherent, holistic record in itself, the individual songs all stand on their own and can be enjoyed outside of the entire contextualized composition. There's very little here that needs connection to a particular track to work.
The record kicks off with the brilliantly charged "Witching Hour." This is an opener that completely sets the tone for the rest of the record. It's fast, tight and angry. Vocalist Angus Norder absolutely crushes it here and adds an extra layer of evil on top of the already nasty guitars. There's no fluff here, no filler, and no mercy. It's a dark and dingy assault that immediately grabs hold of you with its quick tempo anchored by Chris Barkensjo on the drums. This is one of my favorite songs of the year.
"Popecrusher," which features a rather lucid anime-inspired video, leaves little doubt in terms of how the band feels about the Pontiff. There is no hyperbole here with this particular set of lyrics and it's accompanying images. This is a song and video, quite literally, about crushing the Pope. The track itself is a thrashy, riff-laden burner that sounds a bit like a Satanic version of In Flames with some of the stellar leads on the guitars. In fact, Witchery doesn't leave little to the imagination with song titles like this one, as well as "Churchburner," "Under the Altar," and "Left Hand March." I have a strange feeling Vatican City might not be a stop on their next tour.
While bassist Sharlee D'Angelo has left the Witchery fold and doesn't appear on this record (Victor Brandt of Dimmu Borgir takes over), there are some guest appearances to take note of. Jeff Walker of Carcass leads his vocals on punchy "A Forest of Burning Coffins." Mercyful Fate's Hank Shermann plays a lead on "Left Hand March." Simon Johannsson of Wolf guests on guitar on "Crucifix and Candle" and Maciek Ofstad from Kvelertak performs on "Don't Burn the Witch."
All in all, Nightside is a solid record from beginning to end. The songs are just the right length with really the correct amount of both heft and aura. Witchery demonstrates, yet again, that songwriting is key. It's not just fast and heavy for the sake of such, there has to be a purpose and that is ever-so-profound on Nightside.