To quote Dave Grohl: “I’ve got another confession to make”. I checked out Wytch Hazel because simply because they were put to me as “hard rock” and my “stuff to review” pile (it’s full and proper title) was dwindling. Plus their archaic spelling of “witch” grabbed my attention. Sometimes, taking a random punt pays off. And it certainly does with their new album II: Sojourn.
Before the vocals have even kicked in on the opening track “The Devil is Here”, I know I’m going to have a good time. Featuring a gloriously filthy bassline, more rampant than that of “The Trooper” and its twin guitars are more of a love letter to Thin Lizzy than even Black Star Riders. You half-expect Phil Lynott’s booming drawl to materialise but it’s not just here, it’s a tone which runs throughout the record, none more so than with “Save My Life”. Meanwhile, songs like “Victory” and “Still We Fight” sound like they were ripped, screaming, from the 70s.
The album may not be a concept album in the literal sense of telling a story from beginning to end. Thematically, the lyrics look at battles and war from a number of perspectives: the anticipation beforehand, the thick of it, the aftermath and the grizzled veteran who has seen enough in his lifetime and recognising the futility. Elsewhere, “See My Demons” with its ominous opening looks at the grim aftermath not often talked about: PTSD, examining the internal battle so many go through afterwards.
Whilst bluesy tones from the duelling guitars make up the bulk of the melodies, the band find time to ramp it up a notch as they flirt with NWOBHM – you can hear the classic Judas Priest crunch baked into the riffs. For guitar-lovers, this is as classic as rock gets. But the band also know how to drop a gear with the slow burn of “Wait on the Wind” and “Barrow Hill” with their soothing tones. While neither are a “big ballad” moment to get your lighter or phone light out for, they come at welcome moments and show the band are capable of writing other material.
II: Sojourn is a love letter to some of the best bands of the 70s. It’s the kind of music I grew up listening to and the fact that others love the music so much to create more of it for others to enjoy is a delight. Marry those classic muscular Lizzy riffs with the unbridled furious rhythm of NWOBHM’s best work and you have a timeless album.
II: Sojourn is out now