Sunday 28 May 2023

ALBUM REVIEW: Wytch Hazel, "IV: Sacrament"

By: Richard Maw
Album Type: Full Length
Date Released: 02/06/2023
Label: Bad Omen Records

“IV: Sacrament” CD//DD//LP track listing:
1. The Fire's Control
2. Angel of Light
3. Time and Doubt
4. Strong Heart
5. Deliver Us
6. A Thousand Years
7. Gold Light
8. Endless Battle
9. Future Is Gold
10. Digging Deeper

The Review:

Wytch Hazel are back to save us from ourselves- and mediocre albums- with this, their fourth full length. Hitherto, the Lancastrian band have been building up quite a head of steam. “Prelude” introduced the band with its Thin Lizzy meets Wishbone Ash meets NWOBHM stylings. “II Sojourn” was a more straightforward rock proposition and then their crowning glory, “III Pentecost” was the best hard rock album of 2020- fairly easily.
While “Pentecost” may have borrowed from Argus in terms of its pastoral elements and the overall Englishness of the vibe and the space of the sound, “Sacrament” is different again. Having moved from The Stationhouse studio in Leeds to pastures new at StudiOwz in Wales, the band have retained their spacious and expansive sound, along with the analogue vibe of the production courtesy of Ed Turner who operates here as something like a band-member-once-removed.
It’s clear that the band’s Christian themes/element is stronger than ever here; fear of hell and the control that asserts is the theme of “The Fire’s Control” and “Angel of Light” is about, well- you know already. There is Hammond Organ in the mix, multi layered guitars and an excellent bass sound.
There are quirks here; the solo of “Time and Doubt” is extremely fiery, even when the vocals and lyrics are maudlin. Main man Colin Hendra clearly put in overtime with this record- he plays drums after the departure of Jack Spencer. His drumming here is perfectly serviceable, but it is missing the flair of Spencer’s fills and the subtleties/style of his approach. Hendra instead supplies a bedrock for the other instruments to build upon, without flash or fuss. It’s competent and direct. I suspect the album could have been lifted by a full-time drummer, but the fact that the band and Colin made it work without one is a minor miracle in itself. The guitars, vocals and other instrumentation is superb. They all sound incredible and are full of life and purpose. The acoustic guitar overdubs, used to expand the sound a la the Stones on their best 70s work, work superbly and the whole sound has the effect of a wall of sound. Majestic.
Hendra has kept the songs tight and focused- no sprawling 20min prog epics- but despite the taut running times the record has a completely epic feel; it’s a truly immersive experience. As the listener is exhorted to stay until the battle is won on “Deliver Us”… well, I believed in the quest and I believed every word that was sung. It’s powerful, affecting and effective.
Across the record, Wytch Hazel have achieved something in hard rock/metal that is very difficult to do: they have made a heavy album that isn’t aggressive. Too much rock and metal these days (and all days) relies on aggressive chest beating as a trope to confirm heavy credentials. Wytch Hazel instead rely on songs, melodies and sound. Not many bands have been able to do that over the years- Led Zeppelin, Thin Lizzy, Queen, Wishbone Ash and if we extend things a bit, Jethro Tull. It’s a fairly small list (you’ll think of others) and places Wytch Hazel in exalted company indeed. Yes, make no mistake, this album IS heavy. It’s heavy in themes and vibe, even if its airy production belies this. It also rocks hard, but without machismo.
As the record reaches its final triumvirate, the guitar riff and sound that opens “Endless Battle” is simply excellent. The band immediately change things up and the verse section is not what you would expect from the opening- again, a little like classic Tull. The guitar work also echoes Iron Maiden a little- the lineage of British rock and metal is clear and Wytch Hazel are claiming their place in it. The reverbed start to “Future is Gold” allows for lovely acoustic sounds and excellent layered vocals from Colin Hendra; it introduces a rather positive outlook missing from previous tracks- but it is still tinged with a little sadness, a little uncertainty, a little wistfulness. As the album’s ballad track, it works well and is expertly placed in the penultimate position.
Naturally, the band close the album with the longest track- the aptly named “Digging Deeper”. The Wishbone Ash influence is present and correct again here, but the band are now just sounding like themselves- as they did on “Pentecost”. Their sound is unique and instantly recognisable. In fact, over the last few years, Wytch Hazel have become one of my favourite bands. They are peerless at what they do in the modern age and this record is, front to back, incredibly strong. It’s heavy, but paradoxically has a lightness of touch to everything within it. It’s dark but uplifting. It’s much like a Cathedral; a towering achievement built from the ground up, reaching towards the heavens above.
If you haven’t heard Wytch Hazel, you must listen. They are the way, the truth and the light.
“IV: Sacrement” is available HERE
Band info: Bandcamp || Facebook