Don't Fear the Reaper

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For a band whose style was virtually defined by albums that thrashed at very high speeds from start to finish, Witchery's long anticipated fourth opus, Don't Fear the Reaper, is astonishingly slow. Almost suspiciously so, prompting the usual questions about the feasibility of alien abduction (which the bandmembers would probably happily confirm) and whether their fans will revolt and renege them for having such audacity. Some invariably will, but since most know that Witchery have never taken themselves as seriously as most extreme metal bands, chances are they could probably care less about such minutiae. Especially because, aside from their more moderately paced rhythms, new tracks like "The Ritual," "Damned in Hell," and "Styx" bear all of the other well-known Witchery qualities of wickedly evil melodies intertwined with abnormally clean, catchy riffs, and generally uncomplicated arrangements that make them far easier to digest than the rest of the Scandinavian metal milieu. The song "Ashes" is especially deliberate, but uses unapologetically cartoonish gothic organs to alleviate its visions of cemetery dread, and helps make up for frontman Toxine's unusually somber lyrics this time out. In fact, where his disarmingly fun tales of devilry were often the highlight of previous works, he's seems conspicuously less dominant on Don't Fear the Reaper, leaving the rest of the guys to forge ahead instrumentally across the marshal-percussion driven tandem of "Disturbing the Beast" and "War Piece," and the surprisingly memorable (for an instrumental) "The Wait of the Pyramids," which climaxes in an absolutely massive finale reminiscent of Metallica's "Call of Ktulu." Wrapping up the loose ends, speed fetishists are occasionally given their fix via road racers like "Immortal Death," "Cannon Fodder," and the quite excellent "Plague Rider," while album standout "Stigmatized" masterfully melds the best of both domains. So keep in mind that, at a time when most every other extreme metal band and their grandmothers are boarding the neo-thrash train, it's to Witchery's credit and independence that they choose to head in the exact opposite direction. This and the reality that Don't Fear the Reaper is simply an excellent death metal record should supersede listeners' preconceived expectations.

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