Wytch Hazel is an unusual band in the contemporary trad landscape. First, lyrics are overtly Christian, professing the faith of the writer, guitarist, and vocalist Colin Hendra. Secondly, Wytch Hazel plays a type of heavy metal and hard rock rooted in the 1970s. While most bands we enjoy and love are reminiscing of diverse forms of metal from the 1980s, it is far less common to find music of the same quality that would take direct inspiration from Wishbone Ash, for example.
The opener, “He is the Fight”, is the perfect illustration of the Wytch Hazel formula, the band managing to create a distinct enough sound to warrant the wording. On the one hand, it feels like a classic track of Blue Öyster Cult, especially because of the guitar melodies, but on the other hand, it is also clearly 1980s British heavy metal. Additionally, it includes the most recognizable feature in the vocal delivery of Colin. His voice is soft and endearing but with the necessary power to keep the choruses exciting or even epic at times, “Dry Bones” even including a scream. Generally, this album feels heavier and more powerful than the already fantastic predecessor II: Sojourn or the charming Prelude and the groups earlier output. The aforementioned “Dry Bones” and “I Am Redeemed” are triumphant, even explosive tracks without ever losing the Wytch Hazel trademark of Thin Lizzy melodic twin guitar work, perhaps the most prominent influence on display.
It is important to stress however, that the fact that there is a Wytch Hazel formula, a recognizable sound based on a set of rather unusual inspirations, the music is far from being formulaic in the sense that it stays interesting. Especially on the second half of the album, the listener will be surprised by the gravitas of “Reap the Harvest”, including a cello rendition of Chopin’s “Funeral March”, and nearly doomy verses, for a song dealing with the man made destruction and the following imminent death. “The Crown” is possibly the best ballad of the band that is already noteworthy for them. The song progresses from a minimal acoustic guitar to background lead guitars, very fitting marching drum pattern and fantastic chorus with the right amount of silence and reprise to lead to the final song of the album: “Ancient Days”. It is on this song that two other important elements of Wytch Hazel are the clearest, the folky Jethro Tull aspect, and the early music influence, here in the form of strings at the beginning of the track.
Indeed, the band embraced from the beginning the aesthetics and music from the late medieval, renaissance and maybe even early baroque period of England. This is a music made accessible in the 20th century with the help of groups like the Early Music Consort of London that took upon themselves to find and interpret a staggering amount of those old beautiful works and that served as an influence for a lot of musicians, including rock acts such as Wytch Hazel, to also include elements from that time period in their own creations. One typical procedure to convey this feeling is the usage of the Picardy third, in which a minor key section is ended by a major chord, giving it a very glorious and bright finish, like on the end of the bridge and also the very last note of “I Am Redeemed”. It is in moments like these where the different influences merge into one very compelling, multi-faceted piece; take for example the organs in the chorus of that same song that remind of a church prayer, but then later on, the same instrument takes you back directly to an electrifying Deep Purple solo.
All of this would be mere anecdotes if not for the excellent songwriting of III: Pentecost. Nearly every single song is catchy, memorable, and exciting in some way. Everything sounds fantastic as well, which was not a given in the past, despite the charm that the older production might have had. These arrangements are the fruit of a lot of work and heart, it is just a joy to just sink into the record over and over again.
It is not easy to follow up a release like II: Sojourn and Wytch Hazel did it with grace. III: Pentecost is a beautiful, triumphant, and warm album, a quality that is very fitting with the very genuine beliefs expressed in the lyrics. It is not coercing, it is inviting you on a journey that is well-worth experiencing, regardless of your religious convictions.
Favorite Track: I Am Redeemed