Icarus Witch – Rise (03 July 2012, Cleopatra Records)
So way back in the dark ages (i.e. the 1990s), when I was in high school, Cleopatra Records was my favorite record label. I’d snatch up all of the compilations and tribute albums I could find at my local store, of their bands’ gothic and industrial cover songs, as well as CDs by Electric Hellfire Club, Mephisto Walz, Melting Euphoria, and lots more.
Eventually, my musical interests expanded in different directions, to include a lot more extreme metal genres, and inadvertently I had completely lost track of Cleopatra.
Fast-forward several years later, and it came to my attention that there was a band from Pittsburgh who had signed to that label, called Icarus Witch. Now, I didn’t know anything about that band (at first), but remembering the styles that Cleopatra was most closely associated with, I was very surprised when I learned that the label had also expanded its musical horizons far beyond where they used to be. Icarus Witch, for example, do a more traditional heavy metal thing with, some power metal influence. And, as it turns out, they’re pretty good at it.
Today, the band is unleashing Rise, their fifth album overall (their fourth full-length, and the third with Cleopatra). With it comes a new singer (Christopher Shaner), drummer (Tom Wierzbicky), and guitarist (Dave Watson). Only guitarist Quinn Lukas and bassist Jason Myers have been around since the band’s last album, and Myers is the only remaining founding member.
Naturally, with so much of a line-up change, one would expect some changes to the sound of the band itself. When Sammy Hagar took over vocal duties in Van Halen, their songs seemed to reflect a bit more maturity (as well as far fewer ear-splitting shrieks and squeals). Likewise, with the incorporation of singer John Bush, Anthrax saw their material grow more concise and focused, in addition to turning maybe a little bit darker.
I realize that die-hard fans of those two bands’ earlier work would strongly — perhaps even violently — disagree with me here, but personally I prefer both of those two replacement singers over their respective predecessors.
I’m not saying that new Witch vocalist Shaner quite sounds like either of those guys, but the line-ups of those two bands that they were each a part of kept coming to mind while listening to Rise. So I guess maybe there’s some resemblance, but I’d also say it’s because the band has some elements of 90s thrash and 80s hard rock mixed in with its traditional metal foundation.
Opening track “The End,” for example, starts out kind of thrashy, with the band coming out swinging right from the gates. You can hear that track, by the way, as well as an interview with guitarist Lukas, at Iron City Rocks.
Certain points of the album evoke thoughts of even older stuff – like 70s doomy occult hard rock. The title track, for example, and “Asylum Harbour / Coming of the Storm” add some interesting texture with some dark organ sounds — similar to that of bands like Nomad Son or Mystick Krewe of Clearlight. Both of those songs also feature great guitar solos; “Storm” in particular uses some cool harmonized NWOBHM-ish parts.
One main thing that sets this album apart from most traditional or power metal (or thrash, NWOBHM, or classic hard rock, for that matter) is the more modern production values. Compared to most of what you hear out of those genres, the sound here is very crisp and clean — but unlike many contemporary recordings, I would not go so far as to call it sterile or lifeless.
No, while songs like “Tragedy” or “Break the Cycle” might be inclined toward a more modern style, I say it’s more like the difference in the Queensrÿche catalog between Rage for Order and Empire, rather than the much more drastic changes in that band after the departure of Chris DeGarmo. I know there were some fans who disliked the Rÿche’s early-to-mid 90s material, when compared with their earlier work; this new Icarus Witch may give those same people cause to complain.
For the rest of us, we’ll be singing along with the acoustic-based ballad “Nothing is Forever” (whose strummed intro sounds eerily like The Church‘s “Under the Milky Way”), the haunting chorus melody of which will stick with you for days (at least it did for me). And we’ll enjoy rocking out when the band does kick into a more power metal direction, like for the huge chorus in “Rise,” and especially the soaring vocals in album closer “Pray.”
This video teaser for the album includes samples of most of its songs, as well as introducing each band member: