(We present Andy Synn‘s review of the fantastic debut album by Seattle-based Witch Ripper, which was released on September 13th.)
For the most part, the use of comparisons – “so-and-so frequently reminds me of whatsisname” – is one of the most practical and important tools in a reviewer’s repertoire, allowing them to immediately put readers in the right area or mindset when encountering a brand new band/album.
Like any tool, of course, it can be misused in the wrong hands, which often provokes a rather furious backlash from fans/readers who’ve taken umbrage to a writer’s choice of references, to the point where I’ve seen commenters driven into a full-on fit of apoplectic, caps-lock-inducing rage at the mere suggestion that a certain band might possibly, maybe, ever so slightly, sound like another group (or two).
It’s a ridiculous overreaction of course. My saying, for instance, that Seattle-based riff-warriors Witch Ripper frequently remind me of both a more lithe and limber version of High on Fire or a less-scatterbrained variant on Mastodon’s more proggy musings, isn’t meant as a criticism or an accusation of plagiarism… far from it… it’s meant very much as a compliment and as a way of pre-emptively getting potential readers/listeners into the right headspace where they can properly appreciate the album in the right context.
Of course there are bound to be some people who still take issue with those comparisons – either because they find them unnecessary, inaccurate, or somehow offensive – but if there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years it’s that you can’t please everyone.
The best you can do is go in with the right intentions – in this case, the intention of getting as many people to listen to Homestead as possible – and hope that what you write connects with at least a few people along the way.
To wit, this album is a damn fine debut for the Washington witches, and one which they should be immensely proud of no matter what the future brings.
As a matter of fact it’s such a good album that picking out specific highlights has proved harder than I expected as, truth be told, there’s not really a definitively “weak” moment on the entire record (with only the pensive penultimate interlude of “Bog March” being a potential candidate for the chopping block).
Opener “Wasteland”, for example, is certainly an impressive statement of intent, and a great introduction to the band’s striking sound, clocking in at seven superb minutes of meaty, muscular riffs and beefy, bellowing vocals, all backed up by some subtly-proggy percussion (courtesy of drummer Joe Eck) and an ever-present undercurrent of moody melody (which also includes some soaring, yet sombre, clean vocals from frontman Curtis Parker) that gives the back-half of the track in particular an almost Pink Floyd-esque feel.
“Swarm” is a classic–sounding slab of guitar-heavy grooves and gallops, with lyrics about that most Metal of topics, the rise of a post-apocalyptic zombie horde, which also sees the band showing off some shameless soloing along the way, that sets the listener up nicely for the Progressive Stoner swagger of “S.L.U. (The Hive)”, whose dark tone and doom-laden riffs contrast nicely with the storming, Motörhead-meets-Mastodon strains of “Ngenechen” and “Sucker Punch”.
And while I may have begun (and continued) this review by comparing Witch Ripper to some of their similarly bombastic brethren in the modern Metal scene, the truth is that there’s ample evidence here – not least during climactic closer “The Witch”, which may well be the album’s best cut – that the quartet are much more interested in ploughing their own path towards greatness, rather than simply riding the coattails of others, and I for one will be very interested to see where their path takes them going forwards!