Burning Witches – Dance with the Devil (Album Review)

Ready for some new Heavy Metal? Well brace yourself, Swiss quintet Burning Witches are back with Dance with the Devil, set for release on Friday, March 6th through Nuclear Blast Records.

A relatively quick follow-up, Dance with the Devil comes 16 months, almost to the day, after their impressive sophomore album, 2018’s Hexenhammer. As before, Marcel “Schmier” Schirmer of Destruction is behind the board, but some big changes have transpired since listeners dug into Hexenhammer, most notably Vocalist Seraina Telli departing last summer. Turning her full focus to her other project, Dead Venus, The Witches wasted little time seeking a new vocalist. Anointing Dutch Vocalist Laura Guldemond, recently of Shadowrise, they quickly released a new single, “Wings of Steel,” leading us to where we are today. 

Building strongly on its predecessors, Dance with the Devil nonetheless keeps some of the themes that are cementing the Burning Witches motif – dark, swirling intros, obsession with ancient books and literature (“Necronomicon” here, the nominal “Hexenhammer” earlier), and heavy, dueling guitars. Telli was an apt vocalist who acquitted herself well, and Guldemond is an immediate presence in her stead, but the driving force of the band is founding Guitarist Romana Kalkuhl coupled with Sonia Nusselder. The pair keep the train moving backed ably by the rhythm section of Bassist Jeanine Grob and Drummer Lala Frischknecht.

With the heaviest of nods toward Metal stalwarts such as Manowar, Dio, and even earlier acts such as Iron Maiden and Judas Priest – bands which existed without the burden of a specific Metal genre to label them further – Burning Witches are free to shred, riff, and solo through their influences and deliver a bonafied Heavy Metal album, straight with no chaser. In fact, when a gorgeous mini-solo sneaks before the vocals of “Necronomicon,” the band is not simply showing off, but instead demonstrating the restraint it takes not to make every single note a raucous blast. 

Written in the wake of the new lineup forming, “Wings of Steel” was naturally the first song recorded with contributions Guldemond. That said, it has seen heavy rotation since its release as a single and EP last year, and so it would be overkill to include this any earlier in the album than it is here. Nonetheless it removes any doubt that the band is going anywhere but here, and forward.

Moving on, delicious Megadeth via Carcass riffs carry “The Final Fight” with dueling solos and nuclear blast warnings strewn throughout. Then the title-track offers an introductory progression difficult not to head-bang to, and it is easy to imaging all five Witches doing so on stage as the track builds to the vocals.

A short, slower portion comes with “Black Magic,” the balladic entry for Dance with the Devil, and “Sea of Lies” also takes a bit of time getting back to the breakneck pace of the rest of the album. The album further dips into the Eighties with the guitar tone of “The Sisters of Fate,” but the galloping chorus maintains the heavy vibe and keeps the track from turning into a full Hair Metal tribute.

Lastly Dance with the Devil  closes with two absolute dusters – “Threefold Return,” which rings out as a dark, plodding requiem for revenge and destruction, and a cover of “Battle Hymn,” the (almost) title track from the Battle Hymns debut of American band Manowar. The track even features an appearance from founding Manowar Guitarist Ross “The Boss” Friedman, as well as Symphony X Bassist Michael Lepond. The Witches manage to keep the pace and energy of the original while also adding their unique twist.

All in all, The Burning Witches are quick to praise their influences, but this inclusion of two actual musicians from those bands is a bold, refreshing step, and shows the confidence they have in their ability to build on their influences, rather than copy them. Dance with the Devil sees the band take a heavier focus, and the rewards are painfully obvious almost immediately. That is why Cryptic Rock gives this new album 4 out of 5 stars.

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