With the continuing wave of traditional heavy metal just plowing us all over, I’ve come to realize there’s a kind of an anti-sweet spot thing going on. Imagine your average bell curve where the middle is the most common thing that happens and the edges are less likely. Now invert that curve and think about the middle of the curve being something terrible and the edges are where you want to be. That’s how I view the traditional sound where one edge is bands that don’t give into the cheese and the opposite edge is where they sell their hearts and souls it. The bands in the middle that give in a little but act like they’re not have been kind of terrible (my own personal opinion). I think with this sound, you’re either completely forging your own path or your vocalist is bellowing songs about fighting demons over a twin guitar solo.
All that is to say that Wytch Hazel and their brand of what I’ll call fire and brimstone traditional metal has returned in full force. III:Pentecost shows off the band’s ability to make their heavy metal fly high and dramatically soar over all. Some might think that the drama is arbitrarily manufactured, but it’s all extremely earnest stuff. It’s almost like a series of vignettes in the life of a medieval knight, righting the wrongs of the land and bringing justice to the people. In that way, it doesn’t feel contrived or forced in any way and makes the music so much fun to listen to.
III:Pentecost also greatly benefits from much higher production values. Their previous records, Prelude and II:Sojourn, had a lot of the same characteristics as III, but this style doesn’t completely work without high production values. They were a bit on the lo-fi side, completely stripped down without much studio magic. You can tell right away that III meets that standard. You need a little extra pizzazz to really glue together this kind of drama. It needs to be propped up a bit, and that’s what was missing from their previous outings. Wytch Hazel already had the chops and the songwriting, so it’s good they decided to focus on this area for the record.
Outside of those huge boons, you’re getting another Wytch Hazel record. I mean that in the nicest and most complimentary way possible because what the band does is great to listen to. III:Pentecost is a hell of a fun ride if you are into original heavy metal bands like Thin Lizzy, Jethro Tull, and Wishbone Ash (especially Wishbone Ash). The instrumental tones are a bit more stripped down like those bands and is a fun throwback sound.
Along with those tones, Wytch Hazel is one of the premiere songwriting groups working. If you don’t carefully construct this kind of music, it will come across as fake and artificial. Everything has to be built to serve the song and what you’re trying to achieve. These tracks talk about spiritual journeys and dark adventures, and there will inevitably be some contrived drama. But these musicians work damn hard to make the music match the subject material. It’s all so perfectly put together that you can’t help but dive deeply into the images the songs conjure. My words couldn’t possibly do it justice, but thankfully the band made a music video that just so happens to mirror my own thoughts, and I couldn’t have made something more apt.
Truthfully, this is one of my favorite listening experiences of 2020. In a year when we’re all basically trapped in our homes, it’s nice to have diversions of any kind. The more removed from reality, the better these days. A heavy metal band singing songs about sword and sorcery is just the ticket. But Wytch Hazel is more than just a band with a schtick. They are incredibly talented songwriters and musicians who methodically piece together their albums, and it shows. With III:Pentecost, the band’s sound has been fully achieved. The musicianship and songwriting abilities were already there; they just needed the production quality to seal the deal. Wytch Hazel has made a new fan out of me. If you play this record even once, they’ll make another one.
Wytch Hazel’s Pentecost was released October 30th and you can buy it from the band’s Bandcamp above. Praise be!