“The Devil is always ready to make the deal…” says Bewitcher frontman M. Von Bewitcher. Just as Ralph Macchio before them, the band made a pact with Satan a long time ago, ostensibly trading their souls in for killer old school thrash meets classic heavy metal riffs and a successful career that seems only to climb higher as time goes on. Still, it’s been a long strange road that’s brought the band to their Century Media debut Cursed Be Thy Kingdom, and it hasn’t been without struggle, but this offering sees them put out their tightest and most expansive release yet.
Cursed Be Thy Kingdom is a record that is two years in the making, and of course the current situation of the world has a bit to do with what took it so long to see the light of day, but there were also plenty of internal struggles to contend with for the Portland, Oregon, outfit. “This record is nearly two years in the making…and man, it has been a Hell of a two years. When the first riffs were just starting to come together, the world of Bewitcher was already in a state of flux. Of course, things only got crazier from there, and it was in that boiling cauldron of high pressure and hardship that Cursed Be Thy Kingdom was born,” says Bewitcher. Pressure does indeed make diamonds if you embrace it, and it seems that all the pressure on the band allowed them to write at their peak and put together a release that is made of only the cream of the crop of what they have created. The trio of M. Von Bewitcher, bassist A. Magus and drummer Aris Wales perfect their craft of what really can only be described as blackened rock n’ roll (black n’ roll?), effortlessly merging the disparate styles of icy cold, evil black metal with riff-heavy, fun-loving and warm classic metal. Imagine Judas Priest meets Motörhead meets Darkthrone maybe, or like if AC/DC actually worshipped Satan like they front. The band has been known for their excellent, whiplash inducing breakneck compositions, but on Cursed Be Thy Kingdom, they expand their sound to include more mid-tempo grooves, longer compositions and expanding their textures and techniques. Of course, there are still plenty of wild barn-stormers to keep longtime fans happy, but this is also the smartest and most diverse their songwriting has ever been, and it makes for a much more interesting album than if it was just one flavor over and over again.
While the decision to write songs that weren’t entirely punk beats and thrash riffs has led to some backlash against the band, there are plenty of thrashy bangers that offset the more brooding, somber pieces. “Death Returns…,” “Electric Phantoms” and the title track are but a few that hearken back to not only the band’s previous releases, but also to the classic era of 80’s heavy metal, minus the hairspray. There is something infectiously nostalgic about these songs, but there is more to it than just worship of the classics. These songs stand on their own merit for their ability to stick in your brain for days on end. There are hooks aplenty, killer riffs, blazing solos and most importantly a ton of fun to be had with repeated listens. Even more mellow cuts like “Valley of the Ravens” and “Mystifier” still manage to bring a huge amount of enjoyment, even if they don’t move at light speed. The ability of the band to write truly great songs is fully on display here. There really isn’t one box you can put them in.
Cursed Be Thy Kingdom is one of those really special albums that takes me back to what made me fall in love with metal in the first place. We had a conversation about this on the Through the Gate Eternal episode of The Audio Thing, but this album also makes me feel nostalgic for a time that I wasn’t alive to see, but that I appreciated the hell out of in my formative years. I said this about the album of the month and I’ll say it about this one too: if I got my hands on this album when I was fifteen, I would one hundred percent think it was the greatest album in the world. And even that many years later, I still can’t help but grin like an idiot, throw up the air guitar and rock out when the first notes kick in, just like teenage me would do.