In the world of Power Metal, what makes or breaks the success of a band is effective use of the mandatory cheese factor. If you’re a Power Metal fan, and you’re triggered by me saying it’s cheesy, well… I sort of wonder if you might be lactose intolerant. Because cheese is the food of choice for bands like these. It cannot be avoided.
There are many different kinds of cheese, of course. If you’re making a Power Metal sandwich, you really don’t want to use Cheese Whiz and a slice of Velveeta for extra flavoring. You’ll end up choking to death on little pieces of Nightwish and Gloryhammer. Fucking gross! If you’re going to put cheese on a sandwich, get it from the deli. Primal Fear and Helloween might give you gas, and not every bite will be delicious, but that’s the kind of sandwich you’ll make again and again… when you’re in the mood for just-okay food.
When I first encountered Burning Witches, I found them to be slightly less authentic than deli cheese. Something of the Kraft variety. Tasty in a pinch, but factory made. It was their second album, “Hexenhammer,” that gave me this impression. The music was excellent, but I didn’t like the vocals. Last year’s release, “Dance With The Devil,” featured Laura Guldemond on vocals, which completely reversed my attitude towards the band. In fact, now that Laura has entered the conversation, I’m done with the cheese jokes.
Burning Witches became a Heavy Metal band with “Dance With The Devil.” That’s the evolution, and Guldemond’s voice made all the difference. I really dug that album. So, I was quite excited to be given an early opportunity to check out their new album, “The Witch of the North.”
It has been just over one year since the release of “Dance With The Devil,” which isn’t exactly a surprise, given the times we’re living through. Many groups used the extra time off from touring to record new material. But releasing it so quickly is a gamble, if for no other reason than the strength of Burning Witches coming out of 2020 has heightened expectations.
Outside of the vocals, which we’ll get to momentarily, the first obvious stand out on “The Witch Of The North” is the guitar work. This has been a steadily improving and expanding strong point for Burning Witches since album number one. Sonia Nusselder and Romana Kalkuhl made a fantastic team, reaching new heights on “Dance With The Devil.” Nusselder was replaced by Larissa Ernst for “Witch of the North,” which was yet another gamble. It paid off, though, because the guitar sound right off the bat is both heavier and more melodic than previous releases.
I don’t believe Ernst’s presence changes the direction of the band, but it does seem to add a comfortability that was missing before. Perhaps a little more thunder… a little extra punch, which the entire band seems to embrace as a unit. Adding to this is Lala Frischknecht’s drumming. Spectacular, as always, and with the help of bassist Jeanine Grob, the pair provide an extremely solid foundation, allowing ample freedom for the others to occasionally veer off the path and improvise a tad. In subtle ways, of course.
The first two singles, the title track and “Flight of the Valkyries,” are good reference points in a brief discussion about “The Witch of the North” as an album. Other standouts are “The Circle of Five,” and “Thrall,” but track-by-track analysis in this case seems a bit trivial. None of the fourteen songs on the record can be pointed to as weak spots, so favorites will most likely end up being a matter of personal preference… or change from time to time, depending on the mood of the listener. These traits are present in many classic Metal records, and I don’t think it’s much of a stretch to include Burning Witches along with the likes of Metal Church, Queensryche, Accept, or even Iron Maiden and Judas Priest to a degree, if I’m being perfectly honest.
The main reason I feel comfortable including Burning Witches in the same sentence as these huge names is the voice of Laura Guldemond. She is like the love child of Bruce Dickinson and Doro Pesch. Ronnie James Dio and Jill Janus. This woman takes the best of the living and the best of the dead, mixes it all up into a potion and just spits old school Heavy Metal fire all over the fucking place!
I am not trying to suggest that “The Witch of the North” is an all time classic on par with “Seventh Son of a Seventh Son,” “Dream Evil,” or “Triumph and Agony,” but I can say without any doubt that if you took this album back in time to ‘88… it would be HUGE! It deserves to be huge now, but it is certainly possible that an uncomfortable amount of people will still see a group of women rocking out as somehow less legitimate than a group of men doing the same thing and not as well. Let’s just hope to hell I’m all sorts of wrong about that.
“The Witch of the North” releases today, May 28th, on Nuclear Blast Records. Highly recommended, indeed… no matter the variety of cheese you prefer.