German Wiccan metallers Goat of Mendes purvey a superbly stripped down form of our favourite type of music, expending no valuable energy in frippery, instead concentrating on delivering one hundred per cent heavy metal thunder.
Opening with some sort of witches ritual sets the scene nicely, but after that it’s headbanging fury all the way and, I have to say, one of the most enjoyable listening experiences of 2017 to date. Heiner ‘Surtur’ Frank has a gruff, no-nonsense vocal approach; a little one-dimensional at times for sure, but nevertheless entirely what’s required for uptempo meat and potatoes anthems such as Maiden, Mother, Crone. Drummer Daniel puts in a powerhouse performance on this track, driving the band forward and providing a platform on which lead guitarist Seeb is given full rein to shine. And shine he does on a tremendous solo towards the end of the song.
The Crow of War is slower, but much the same in intent. This is music obviously recorded on a tight budget, and the band work wonders creating an atmosphere derived purely from the strength of the instrumental passages they conjure up. …Crow is a sinister creeper of a track, Frank’s leering croak fitting the music perfectly, rising in intensity as the song hits it’s stride and powers it’s way to the finish line.
Partial title track Riding the Fence is a corker, galloping along on a catchy riff and Frank’s best vocal yet; this is real Teutonic metal, a fiery, guttural maelstrom of muscle and melody directly from the line of such great names as Grave Digger and (old) Running Wild. And it slays. Absolutely. Obviously.
Samhain (A Visit from Beyond the Veil) starts with a chugging, dramatic riff straight out of the Mercyful Fate songbook before settling down and developing into a serpentine epic of raw guitars, throbbing bass and a storytelling vocal from Frank which again complements the musical backing perfectly. An Empty Hand (Can Still Clench a Fist) is more straightforward, being an uptempo speed metal number with an added sinister edge thanks to some dissonant guitar lines and a superbly thanatoid vocal from Frank which adds some extremity to the song, steering it into decidedly blackened waters. It’s folky midsection is a bit reminiscent of Batavian battlers Heidevolk.
Final track Mabon – Impending Darkness, is, as you’d hope from a band who clearly revere the traditions and tropes of heavy metal, a slow burning epic that ends with thunder and rainfall effects in best Sabbathian fashion. It’s the perfect way to end one of the most steadfastly traditional metal albums I’ve heard all year. Great work!
Hagzussa – Riding the Fence is out now on Witches Brew.