Blackened thrash veterans Witchery are back, once again with significant line-up changes. These changes, thankfully, embellish the ethos which have made the band, in all their previous installments, vital in their respective field throughout the years. With new vocalist Angus Norder and drummer Christofer Barkensjö now in the fold, In His Infernal Majesty’s Service marks a new chapter in the band’s career, a chapter which sounds as ferocious, angry and evil as ever. It’s business as usual for the Scandinavians, and the horror-themed occultisms coupled with copious amounts of thrashing are all present and accounted for. No pretenses. No nonsense.
Proceedings get underway with “Lavay-athan,’’ a track which lives up to its premise, boasting all the Satanic splendour and monstrous riffs you’d expect from a title that references both the founder of the Church of Satan and a giant monster of biblical mythology. It’s a take-no-prisoner’s opener which perfectly encapsulates everything the band represents, and anyone who’s been worrying about new frontman Norder replacing Emperor Magus can rest easily knowing that the screams, gnarls and demonic rage we expect from a Witchery record have never sounded better. That said, those who are familiar with his other band, Nekrokraft, wouldn’t have doubted his appointment in the first place.
“Nosferatu’’ is one of the best tracks in their entire canon up until now, and it perfectly exemplifies the range found on In His Majesty’s Service. It’s not only the most unabashed showcase of how they’ve mastered the art of the riff, but it’s easily one of their catchiest songs. It’s a steady prod-along headbanger with a chorus that’ll get stuck in your head for days. But even though it’s one of the best tracks in their arsenal doesn’t necessarily make it the best on the album either. That honour goes to the Lovecraftian “Escape from Dunwich Valley,’’ which opens with a haunting funeral organ before erupting into an unforgiving tour de force of melodic thrash. It’s the standout entry from a remarkably strong album that sees the band shift between metallic and Gothic passages with ease. It’s a showcase in confident shredding, spectacular solos and unabashed showing off. They know they’re good and they have no qualms about reminding us.
“The Burning of Salem,’’ sounds like a love letter to Slayer, and in parts it wouldn’t sound out of place on Reign in Blood if it wasn’t still atypically Witchery. Still, the riffs are reminiscent of the heyday of King and Hanneman and the drumming doesn’t stray too far from Lombardo territory. If “Necrophobic’’ had a cooler younger brother who looked up to it but wanted to be that bit heavier, then it’d be “The Burning of Salem.’’
In His Infernal Majesty’s Service is the best Witchery album to date so far, and one of the best metal albums of 2016 – which is an impressive feat considering they haven’t put out an underwhelming record and this year has been stellar for new music. The addition of Norder is a huge factor; their previous vocalists have all been great, but for the first time they have a frontman who’s truly elevated their music. And despite the constant line-up changes throughout the years, the band sounds tighter and fresher than ever; like they’ve playing together for decades while still retaining the energy and excitement of newcomers.
This album doesn’t fuck around. Every single track is a sonic assault on the senses of the best kind, and while it doesn’t break any new ground or transcend genre barriers, it is a refreshing reminder that sometimes even the familiar music can sound cutting edge and refreshing.
In His Infernal Majesty’s Service was released on November 25th via Century Media Records. You can head on over here to get it. Hail Satan.