Danish metal didn’t throw up too many legends in the early eighties, apart from Mercyful Fate and… Witch Cross. Despite the fact that they never quite attained the heights of King Diamond and company, the fact remains that the band’s primitive stormer of an album from 1984, Fit For Fight, remains as something of a milestone – or perhaps millstone – for the band, and their country’s metal in general.
They didn’t follow that record up until 2013’s Axe To Grind, and now here we are, a further seven years down the line with album number three, Angel of Death. Was it worth the wait?
It’s hard to say definitively. There are some nice moments here, with songs like Phoenix Fire and Warrior being well-sung and well-played slices of resolutely trad metal, delivered straight-faced and without any concession to the fact that we are now living in the twenty first century. Whether that’s enough to snare many new adherents to guitarist/founding member Mike Wlad‘s cause is a moot point, but if you’re a big fan of the Saxon sound circa Power and the Glory there’s a fair bit on offer here that’s got your name on it.
Curiously enough, that Saxon analogy is a pretty strong one; Witch Cross’ vocalist on both their recent albums is none other than journeyman Brit rocker Kevin Moore, a one time member of Son of a Bitch, the band formed by Graham Oliver and Steve Dawson after they were given the elbow by the Barnsley big teasers way back in the mists of time; here he puts that experience to good use with a commanding if at times slightly mannered performance, sounding at times like a cross between Ozzy and Blitzkrieg‘s Brian Ross. That isn’t as challenging a mix to the ears as you might at first surmise, and Witch Cross v.2021 is definitely a better band for the man’s presence.
Wlad and guitar partner Paul Martin crank out the tried and tested heavy metal thunder with no little style and skill; indeed, within the well-worn niche they’ve carved for themselves, they manage to keep some semblance of identity of their own as a guitar team, staying away from the more obvious Tipton/Downing/Smith/Murray temptations and actually wrenching some pretty memorable, melodic guitar passages from tracks like the brooding Siren’s Song, which stands head and shoulders above the rest of the material in terms of ambition and execution.
Heavy metal in it’s purest form (and this is a pure heavy metal album) wears it’s immutability as a badge of honour, and in that sense Angel of Death is an unqualified success. By any other yardstick it’s a faintly laughable throwback to the days of spandex and patchouli; I know in which camp I sit – I’ll leave you to choose for yourself.
Angel of Death releases on June 11th.