Article By: Kira Schlechter, Staff Writer ‡ Edited By: Leanne Ridgeway, Owner/Chief Editor
“The female of the species is more deadly than the male,” Rudyard Kipling once said. And for certain, Burning Witches, five women from Switzerland, are pretty damned deadly.
Singer Seraina, guitarists Romana and Sonia, bassist Jay, and drummer Lala released a self-titled album in 2017, and ‘Hexenhammer‘ (“the Hammer of the Witches” in German) is the follow-up. And it’s the most impressive, straight-ahead metal album I’ve heard in forever.
“The Witch Circle” is a great way to kick things off – dreamy, seductive, a little threatening. “Executed,” then, is Judas Priest-influenced through and through, with its blistering pace, sharp, confident, sophisticated playing (like they’ve been doing it forever), and Seraina snarling and wailing and doing everything she’s supposed to do.
“Lords Of War” is striking, with its dead-on pointed lyrics about the absurdity of war (“Let’s start another battle / Because we don’t know better”) and how they are often caused out of insecurity (“Don’t underestimate how strong that weakness can be”), ridiculously superb groove and sing-along chorus.
“Open Your Mind” is very subtle political commentary on the climate at hand (“There is no redemption in hate / No matter how hard you try”), and the chorus coalesces that (“Open your mouth against human incompetence / Don’t spread the lies to drown in your own hate”). It’s a comment on gun violence (“You don’t want to sacrifice your child / If you let them play with a gun”) and a pointed message about cults of personality (“Sometimes it’s easier to follow a liar than to find a way in bitter truth”). It’s laden with superior guitar harmony and Seraina’s final shriek drives the point firmly home.
The lone ballad “Don’t Cry My Tears” is an emotional, wrenching plea for self-determination – don’t tell me how or what to feel, thanks very much. Seraina can straight-out sing just as well as she can scream, and the little raspy, gritty catch in her voice here is so effective. Ballad it may be, but it’s without cliché or fake sentimentality.
“Maiden Of Steel” is a battle hymn to the max, that fantastical stuff Priest does so well (à la “Painkiller” or “Exciter,” for instance), perhaps serving to personify a weapon. “Possession” is vaguely reminiscent of “Turbo Lover” in sound and sentiment, with its lines about “a hard and heavy ride” and pounding-down-the-highway rhythm.
But the pivotal tracks here are “Dead-Ender” and the title track. Under the overt theme of the long-ago persecution of witches, these two tracks serve a much broader covert purpose: to soundly damn the patriarchy. Whether Burning Witches intended to do this or not, it’s genius in its subtlety.
The persecutor described in “Dead-Ender” is “a broken man… spreading his opinion in the name of God” – note the use of the word “opinion” here. He has a “simple mind,” he is a “maniac in constant fear of the womenfolk.” He is “still afraid of confession” – he cannot bear to hear what women will actually say. So they must die.
The title track is a litany of the demonization of women that has gone on for millennia and still goes on in many circles: that they use their “personal advantages” (i.e. their appearance) to serve their “evil” purposes, that their sexuality must be feared (“Your carnal desire is voracious”), that their intellect is suspect and somehow lesser (“You’re mentally fragile”), that they lack congress with God (“You’re not a believer”).
The stunning chorus, “Burn alive, Satan’s whore / No one will pray for you and that’s for sure,” is brutal on multiple levels, again not just evoking times like the Dark Ages and the Salem trials but the #MeToo movement, as well. When they change a line in the chorus to “Burn alive, just in case” (like let’s just make sure you will corrupt no more), it’s absolutely devastating.
The double meaning of “Man-Eater,” in the wake of the two previous tracks, is not only devilishly clever, but serves to lighten the mood significantly. Seraina’s chuckle midway through shows she’s completely in on the joke, delivering lines like “Stay for dinner / It’s only for invited guests and you’re the winner” with a wink, a leer, and a bit of a slaver. It’s terrific.
If you weren’t fully convinced Burning Witches knows exactly what they’re doing, a glorious cover of “Holy Diver” does the trick. Seraina’s rich, resonant voice is evocative of Dio, but there’s no copying here — she effortlessly makes it her own. The cover may not have been completely necessary, given that their own material is so strong, but we’ll give it a pass.
Who would have thought that the mantle of the mighty Priest would be taken up by five Swiss women? They have earned the right to drape it over their shoulders in spades – “Hexenhammer” is just a brilliant effort.
In related news, BURNING WITCHES will provide direct support to Grave Digger on their upcoming “Tour Of The Living Dead” in Europe this winter – the itinerary is listed below.
– GRAVE DIGGER “Tour Of The Living Dead” European Winter 2019 w/ BURNING WITCHES –
Jan. 11 – DE Hanover – MusikZentrum
Jan. 12 – DE Andernach – JUZ Live Club
Jan. 13 – CH Pratteln – Z7
Jan. 14 – DE Munich – Backstage
Jan. 15 – DE Aschaffenburg – Colos-Saal
Jan. 16 – DE Saarbrücken – Garage
Jan. 17 – DE Bochum – Zeche
Jan. 18 – DE Glauchau – Alte Spinnerei
Jan. 19 – DE Neuruppin – Kulturhaus
Jan. 20 – NL Rotterdam – Baroeg
Jan. 22 – DE Hamburg – Martkhalle
Jan. 23 – DE Berlin – Lido
Jan. 24 – DE Bamberg – Live-Club
Jan. 25 – DE Regensburg-Obertraubling – Airport-Eventhall
Jan. 26 – DE Memmingen – Kaminwerk
Jan. 27 – DE Ludwigsburg – Rockfabrik
Jan. 28 – FR Paris – Petit Bain
Jan. 29 – UK London – Camden Underworld
Jan. 30 – BE Vosselaar – Biebob
Jan. 31 – FR TBA
Feb. 01 – ES Bilbao – Santana 27
Feb. 02 – ES Madrid – Sala Mon Live
Feb. 03 – ES Barcelona – Razzmatazz 2