Traditional Metal from the UK
Wytch Hazel play a unique, but tragically underrepresented style of traditional metal that is deeply rooted in 70s hard rock. They’ve always drawn a considerable amount of influence from legendary acts such as Thin Lizzy, Wishbone Ash, Jethro Tull, and to a lesser extent fellow UK metal stalwarts Pagan Altar. Up to this point, Wytch Hazel have had two major releases: 2012’s The Truth EP and 2016’s Prelude debut album. I enjoyed both of these and given the band’s unique, throw-back style of heavy metal it was a no-brainer – I had to check this album out on day one.
Wytch Hazel’s history has been one of development, growth, and maturity. Their first effort, the 2011 single/demo titled Surrender, was a lead guitar driven affair that showed a lot of potential. Unfortunately, it wasn’t well produced (as most demos are) and the songs weren’t as gripping as you’d like them to be. Their follow up, the 2012 EP titled The Truth, showed clear movement in the right direction. The production was a bit cleaner and the riffs were more memorable. Prelude, their 2016 debut album, continued this trend as Wytch Hazel brought better vocals and tighter musicianship to the table. Each release has been a step above the previous in terms of production and overall musicianship.
It’s clear that II: Sojourn continues that trend. In fact, it becomes readily apparent from the very first track that this isn’t a minor step up like the other releases, but a drastic and highly commendable improvement. “The Devil is Here” immediately opens the album with a high energy riff followed by Colin Hendra’s passionate and character filled vocals. One of the biggest complaints I’ve had about all of Wytch Hazel’s previous releases is the distinct lack of punch. The guitar tones were a bit too thin and the riffs weren’t quite heavy enough for my liking. That’s been remedied for II: Sojourn as the guitars are more aptly distorted and the riffs are punchier.
The Thin Lizzy inspired lead guitar work is yet again the highlight of Wytch Hazel. The twin melodies are carefully constructed and the guitar solos are heartfelt and soulful. Colin Hendra’s vocals are powerful, memorable, and do an excellent job of complimenting the superb guitar work. The vocal melodies are catchy without being too overbearing. The band incorporates a number of tasteful, folk-influenced acoustic interludes and tracks throughout the entirety of II: Sojourn. Wytch Hazel have a knack for writing beautiful acoustic sections and that is still true for what’s found on this album.
The production is the real highlight here. Wytch Hazel’s previously releases were plagued with poor production quality that caused the guitars to sound dangerously thin and hid the true quality of Hendra’s vocals. This detracted heavily from the songs and at times made it difficult to listen to despite solid musicianship. The production on II: Sojourn is crystal clear without sounding sterile in the least, a remarkable feat these days. The guitars are much, much easier to hear and the vocals shine through the mix brilliantly.
While the acoustics are exceptionally well-written, they are also the album’s biggest flaw. There are two strictly acoustic tracks on the album, “Barrow Hill” and “Angel Take Me”, with the latter being the album’s closer. Of these two, “Angel Take Me” is notably stronger and better written. Two acoustic tracks feels excessive, especially having one close the album out. I would have far preferred for II: Sojourn to end on a high-energy and powerful note, much like it opened with “The Devil is Here”. The album’s penultimate track, aptly “Victory”, fits this description perfectly and would have given this album the closing it needed. If it was up to me, I would have nixed “Barrow Hill”, replaced it with “Angel Take Me”, and closed the album out on a triumphant note with “Victory”.
It’s worth noting that Wytch Hazel are an aggressively Christian band. Their faith makes it through to the music and the lyrics heavily reference religion. Now personally, this doesn’t bother me at all. The lyrics are really well written and earnest from my perspective, but they may be a turn-off for other folks.
Overall, II: Sojourn is a remarkable example of a growth and maturity. After my first listen, I got a warm, fuzzy feeling that’s difficult to describe. Pride is the closest emotion that I can compare it. I’ve been following Wytch Hazel since their inception and watching them improve so much as a band is really exciting and heart-warming to see. Although not without its flaws, Sojourn is a very well-put together and memorable album. It’s looking like this is one of the serious contenders for trad album of 2018!
Favorite Track: Victory
Album Rating: 90/100