Album Review: Burning Witches – The Dark Tower
Reviewed by Sam Jones
Burning Witches, a band that is simultaneously underrated yet growing in the minds of many. Formed in 2015 out from Aargau, Switzerland, the band have released an impressive repertoire of material in under a decade, now prepping to unleash their fifth studio record titled The Dark Tower. Their first album released in 2017, a self-titled work, yet they rose to my attention with their 2018 follow-up, Hexenhammer, a record that really put their name out to the international scene. Since then the band have acquired a new vocalist, Laura Guldemond, as well as another two studio records. They’re certainly hardworking, there’s no doubt there. Five studio records in under ten years is great going, so let’s see whether The Dark Tower lives up to the hype Burning Witches are garnering lately.
It’s been a hot minute since I really checked out Burning Witches and I must say, the band’s performance is much lighter on intensity than I recall. The overall heavy metal aesthetic is there naturally as guitars and drums and vocals are firing on all cylinders, yet the unmistakable infusion of power metal into their performance can’t be ignored. It’s especially prevalent to their identity considering they unload a hint of that whimsical atmosphere right at the start of the record. As a result, when people pick up this album for the first time and are unsure what they’ll make of it, they’ll be in safe hands knowing the band aren’t going to be throwing them through any major sensory hoops; the general aim of Burning Witches is submerging us within a fun and roaring record that can take us from one track to another with a grand smile across our faces.
An additional result of this approach in songwriting is the clear 80s influence that’s seeping into their performance. This isn’t exclusive to atmosphere only; the riffs and vocal delivery also infer a love for the retro sound Burning Witches champion here. It’s been some time since we’ve encountered an album that is vying for such a hard hitting metal impact, whilst simultaneously feeling like something fans can effortlessly mouth the words and vibe to during their live shows. The guitar work pushes this notion all the more, whereby we know the band are doing all they can to keep us invested in their sound, yet riffs and chords dissipate pretty easily, rarely sticking around long enough before the next riff sequence is brought into play. The band have no wish to linger around and hope what they’re doing is working; they’re going to keep throwing track after track at you, consistently reinvigorating the rollercoaster they’ve thrown you on.
Listening closely, it becomes evident how the bass really helps to nail down the band’s grounded presence. The band’s performance may lean hither and thither between traditional heavy metal with power metal elements periodically, but the general assault of their sound is doubtlessly pulled off by the mix The Dark Tower was rendered with. Since the band’s bass, instrumentally and mix-wise, has been given such prominence, their lighter moments are in fact disguised as something tonally natural to their songwriting. It may be a little unique to what people, experiencing a good year for retro metal as of yet, are expecting but it helps to bind Burning Witches’ performance and songwriting together into a cohesive formula that works for what they’re aiming for here. When the vocals and riffs are playing, and you’ve got the bass underlaying the record, it produces an infectiously satisfying effect that keeps you engaged and primed for what the record throws next.
The band’s approach to album structure may be pretty rudimentary, for the most part we’re receiving a slew of by-the-numbers tracks that do what traditional heavy metal does, yet it’s pleasing to note the band took it under themselves to ensure audiences could find some reinvigoration along the line. Opening with a short introductory track, the band once again break up the flow of their record not only with a mid-record piece that primes us for the back half of the album but also, the ballad “Tomorrow” which is an exemplary piece of songwriting and vocal prowess. Placing this track right before the mid-album break is a wonderful decision, demonstrating how a keen eye for track positioning still matters in 2023. Since the ballad relaxes us and changes up the flow we become accustomed to within the record, the mid-album break feels less like a breather and more like the natural follow up to part one of The Dark Tower. Knowing the band begin part two of this record with the title track, it’s all the more fitting.
In conclusion, Burning Withes’ fifth full length album is a slab of heavy metal that will easily sway audiences under its spell. I do believe the second half to this record is stronger than the first but, with that said, it’s only by a marginal difference. For a record that doesn’t move too far this way or that, the band did well to include some necessary variety into the backbone of their album, if only to alleviate us from the trudging flow the record possesses; I think, had the ballad and mid-record break not been included, this record could have run the risk of losing us at some point especially when, in its entirety, The Dark Tower runs for almost an hour. With that said, established fans of the band will find little to fault these Swiss women over and will be raring to undergo another piece of retro heavy metal.