I feel a bit guilty about this review. Why guilty? Because I consider Witchskull’s 2016 debut The Vast Electric Dark an absolute classic rock/metal album, yet the band have released two albums since then that I’ve somehow managed to completely bypass. That debut album is one that’s kept me sane on countless peak hour commutes, blasting from my long-suffering car stereo at ridiculous volume. I’ve also, rather irritatingly, managed to catch only one single live set to date, but I was utterly hypnotised. I guess now’s the time to atone and offer some fumbling words on Witchskull’s third rock‘n’roll opus, A Driftwood Cross.
Maybe I’ll start that process by painting you a picture of that one furious live set; imagine a guitarist with wild hair, scuffed-up work boots, and a low-slung Gibson, howling and wailing so hard he looked like he was gonna have an aneurism right there on stage. Picture a bassist with one boot on the foldback, holding a Rick bass like it was an automatic rifle, and gazing defiantly out on the crowd. Lastly, picture an entity sitting behind the drums, apparently constructed entirely from hair and sweat. If you can feel that energy then maybe you should stop reading and go buy this album, because it’s all been distilled into one hell of a powerful studio recording and manifested in physical form for your enjoyment.
If you still need more convincing, I’d say to begin with; think doom, in tone, if not always in tempo – certainly in themes and imagery. Think rumbling, galloping NWOBHM, elegant and catchy songcraft, and dear God, those vocals! I have no idea what the hell Marcus is singing about most of the time, but for me the emotional impact is as piercing and incapacitating as a well-placed liver shot. It’s a haunting, lupine, and strangely vulnerable sound.
Believe the hype. This is killer…
So the album kicks off with an inescapably thumping, shuffling groove in Black Cathedrals. It gradually shifts through a few high-octane variations before dropping into a slow doomy lurch. But they’re just getting warmed up. Next up is three minutes of palm-muted blunt force trauma and occult story telling in Baphomet’s Child, followed by the more spacious, slow-building tension of This Silent Place. It doesn’t let up from this point. Slow, lurching passages melt into furious riffage and back, always eerie and ominous – this is a band and an album that are all about tension and dynamics.
All told, there are eight dense, foreboding chunks of rock ’n’ roll esoterica. I won’t go any further into the other tracks, because this is an album experience, and frankly, I just can’t do it justice – sometimes the albums you love are just as hard to review as the ones you don’t. Believe the hype. This is killer.
Scribed by: Rob Bryant