In the last few years following the demise of CARNÚN and MOONFOG and the conversion, or expansion if you prefer, of GEASA and PRIMORDIAL, Ireland has sorely lacked any real Black Metal. Finally from the ashes of that dead scene bands have begun again to arise and show great promise for the future of the darkest genre in Ireland.
WITCHHAMMER, along with Dublin's SOL AXIS, are one of the forerunners of this black resurrection, but as with SOL AXIS their demo is anything but traditional. In its originality and its almost "Rebel Extravaganza" like statement of rebellion from Black Metal tradition, lies its value and indeed its appeal, for with "Neo Nazarene" WITCHHAMMER have created a demo that sounds solely like WITCHHAMMER. Of course there are clear Black Metal influences, it would hardly be a Black Metal album otherwise, like MAYHEM and GORGOROTH (surprisingly the later albums from the last mentioned band seem to have had an influence), but in its entirety "Neo Nazarene" quite simply sounds like no other that I can put my finger on.
For a Black Metal band to have the balls to cover a Nick Cave song is reason enough to state WITCHHAMMER's obvious intentions towards individuality. I have to say though that the cover has been done exceptionally well, making great use of the clean vocals accompanying the impressive shrieks. It is an excellent cover that really exceeded my expectations (not difficult when you're expecting a disaster!) and proved the band's worth as they were able to make this song fit with the blackened theme they have chosen for their sound.
Instrumentally the band delivers the material well leaving little room for complaint and the riffs are far above average for today's often stale Black Metal scene. The drum work is very crisp and the guitars sharp and punishing. Surprisingly though WITCHHAMMER make much more use of the bass guitar than the vast majority of Black Metal bands and for me it becomes one of the more interesting aspects to the demo. The vocals make use of fantastic shrieks, yet they lack a little character at times (a problem for the studio only I can assure you as live the vocals are simply amazing), yet the talent and potential for development is more than apparent.
The material itself becomes very characteristic of itself at times and this is one of the few criticisms I can offer to the band. It does appear to be a problem for bands who try to be original to create music that differs from the crowd yet achieve individuality within itself. WITCHHAMMER's songs, while being very impressive and thoroughly enjoyable, seem to resemble each other a little too much for my liking and I think perhaps a little more variation is needed for this style to stretch out for a full length album. However as a demo the short running time means that this problem doesn't affect the band in any great way.
"The Ballad Of The Twilight Shadows" is the highlight of the demo for me and it best showcases the WITCHHAMMER sound. The track makes great use of powerful sharp vocal, riffing and blasting sections that are kept short to enhance their extremity. The introduction of very short clean passages and bass sections greatly add to the weight of the blasts and the effect that they have on the listener. The riffs in general and the structure as a whole in this track is almost flawless and the track is certainly one of the best Black Metal tracks I've heard in quite some time.
To conclude the review I would just like to say that WITCHHAMMER have the potential to be great and given a little bit of time and development their sound should be immense. The talent and vision is clearly shown here on the demo I for one expect as well as hope that it will not go to waste and that something truly great will arise from the ashes in the scene's rebirth. (Online June 27, 2004)