Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Witch - The Hex is On EP (1984)

Witch was actually one of the biggest hopefuls in the LA/Southern California metal scene in the 80s, known for their wild live gigs and Punky Peru's crazy rock drummer antics, including a relationship with the legendary Lita Ford (he co-wrote one of the songs on her best selling album). I recently read up on the band's website, written and organized by a photographer friend, and found it so fascinating to see all the great bands they shared the stage with, even headlining over! Slayer, Lizzy Borden, Keel, Overkill, Megadeth, Exciter, and the list goes on. The band have even reformed in the past few years and hired on Betsy Bitch of the old cheesy 80s metal band Bitch. Yes, she is currently fronting both Bitch and Witch!

At any rate, the band had rather a sad story typical of so many rock and metal bands of the 80s who were ultimately eluded by real national success, despite their honest efforts and local gigging credibility. This EP is one of the few actual releases that saw the light of day through a talent agency the band was working under. A ton of line-up changes and internal dissension would seal the band's fate during their original run, and the labels simply passed over them. One listen through The Hex is On and you can start to reason out why, for this is fairly typical heavy metal that was coming from all corners of the nation back in those days, and there is not much to lift it past the competition, especially when bands like Slayer and Metallica were taking the California audience by storm.

That said, Witch is far heavier than your average glam metal band, even though they gigged a lot with hairspray queens and poseurs. These gentlemen might have once entertained that look (similar to Lizzy Borden), but they play pure heavy metal rooted in the early 80s tradition derived from Judas Priest, KISS, Saxon, Twisted Sister and Accept. The vocals of Peter Wabbitt (choke choke) stick around the mid range, and the riffs are fairly basic, but combined with the echoing thunder of Peru's drumming and the thick as thighs bass, they manage to get the heads banging even if they don't have much in the way of memorable songwriting.

"Nervous Wreck" gets the blood pumping and the fists up in the air due to Ronny Too's playful guitar licks, a half-assed gang shout chorus and a fairly brief, take no prisoners attitude. To follow this, they give a tasteful, moody atmospheric ballad intro to "Damnation", which quickly transforms into some downtrodden, melodic metal like a rainy day in the city. Wabbitt gives it all, hitting a decent mid to high range throughout, but I'm not into the writing. "Bewitched" and "Wet & Wild" serve only to rock the house down, though the chord selection is extremely generic even by 1984 standards, but the filthy closer "Cinderella (In Black Leather)" is effectively cold and mean, with bass bursting all over in a grooving swagger.

This is super lo-fi metal here, with an uneven production loaded in reverb and instruments that are not always mixed to their potential. It comes across almost like a live performance, and perhaps that was always the appeal of Witch: their gigging. It's likely they would have developed as songwriters if given half the chance, and there are a few decent riffs here in "Nervous Wreck" and "Cinderella", but in the end I just didn't find myself immersed in much of the material. If you're into dirty, hot, fun 80s metal like Krank, Twisted Sister, early Lizzy Borden, or the more aggressive hard rock bands that were kicking around Southern California in these times, then you could certainly spin this for a healthy helping of nostalgia, but that's about the maximum impact you will achieve here. It's a case of hype and history (which makes for a decent read) surpassing the actual music, but the fact that they're still jamming some of these tunes on a stage is nothing short of admirable.

Verdict: Indifference [6/10]

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