Cry of the Wolf
3/26/2015 - Review by: Vinaya Saksena
Now, this brings back memories! And let that serve as a disclaimer of sorts, as this long gone metal act from my home state of Rhode Island played a significant role in my musical coming of age during my college years (late '90's to early 2000's). Full disclosure: I count Witch Meadow guitarist Bryan Martin as a friend and former bandmate, having briefly served as rhythm guitarist in his post-Witch Meadow band, Metal Rising. Having said that, I think I can nonetheless be somewhat objective here.
As this collection's liner notes state, Witch Meadow were a four-piece traditional metal outfit that had the somewhat unfortunate distinction of arriving in the early nineties- late in the game for this style of metal and more importantly, a time when the Grunge-dominated American music scene had started to become markedly unwelcoming for any band with long hair and even slightly pointy guitars. But like untold (but diminishing) numbers of similar acts carrying the torch during this dark period, the band soldiered on for a time, issuing two self-released albums. Both of those releases - the 1995 EP "When Midnight Calls" and the 1996 full-length "Down Eternity's Hall" - are included in their entirety here, in what I feel is a nice addition to Divebomb Records' growing collection of archival releases.
Musically, Witch Meadow seemed to take most of their cues from the likes of Iron Maiden, Manowar and Judas Priest, lacking the technical precision of those acts in their prime, but making up for this minor shortcoming through sheer energy and conviction. This was particularly true of their debut EP, where Martin churned out basic but effective riffs and solos that eschewed the ornate melodicism and complex, jazz fusion-influenced licks favored by some shredders in favor of tried and true metal basics. (Although his solo on leadoff tune "Cry of the Wolf" boasts a pretty impressive tapped run.) Vocalist Paul Wyrostek, meanwhile, makes valiant attempts at Halford-like levels of vocal grandeur. It's all pretty basic and a bit on the rough side in terms of production and execution, but on this six-song, cassette-only EP, it worked, due in no small part to memorable songs that played to the band's strengths.
Less successful in this regard was "Down Eternity's Hall," on which the band attempted to diversify its sound somewhat. With drummer Mel Taylor being replaced by the more progressively inclined Norm Wrigley, the band mined some of the same territory, but tried a few different moves, and with what Martin has acknowledged were somewhat mixed results. "Soldier of Fortune" rocks fiercely, in what was probably the closest the band had ever come to thrash metal, and "The Gift" is a minor epic based on a riff more intricate that the band's previous work. On the downside, however, there are two ballads, one of which drifts into an almost pop metal style that sits uncomfortably amongst the other songs here. In my opinion, however, what really kept this album from reaching the potential hinted at on the EP was the production. Cleaner and simultaneously more minimalist than that of its predecessor, it left the guitars curiously low in the mix. (Both releases appear to feature minimal overdubbing, but here the resulting sound is often thin to the point of distraction, while somehow also lacking the pleasant sonic rawness of the EP.) In a recent interview with Maximum Metal, Martin said this album's production process was actually more labor-intensive than that of the EP, yet to my ears, it always sounded distinctly unfinished. (Odd observation: Martin's guitar and Dennis Stimpert's bass are mixed in a way that reminds me of Manowar's "Louder Than Hell" album.)
For this release, Divebomb has produced spiffy new artwork, including a lovely full color booklet that features an interview with Martin, lyrics to most of the songs and lots of pictures (a two page collage and a few individual shots of the band). The mastering is also worth noting, as it makes some (mostly welcome) sonic tweaks, particularly to the "Down Eternity's Hall" tracks, which have been given some much needed punch and clarity. The only drawback to the remastering done here is that if anything, it's a little too hot (although definitely not as bad as "Death Magnetic" and other offenders in the Loudness Wars). For the most part, though, it doesn't detract from enjoyment of the music, and again, some of this stuff has definitely been improved, clarity-wise.
If you're an old school metal fan hearing about Witch Meadow for the first time here, chances are you'll find this collection enjoyable, but most likely not life-changing. However, if you (like me) have been wishing you had a clean, professionally pressed CD version of "When Midnight Calls" to replace the worn out cassette copy you dubbed from a friend back in the day, then you need this.
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