Axewitch – Out of the Ashes into the Fire (Pure Steel Records)Wednesday, 12th May 2021
Prolific in the early 80’s with three albums and an EP, Swedish band Axewitch return for their first record in 26 years with Out of the Ashes into the Fire. Four-fifths of the main lineup come together with bassist Björn Hernborg entering the fold back in 2012, and you always approach these ‘reunion’ albums cautiously. Will they stand up to the past catalog, or illustrate that the best, creative energy days have passed these musicians by? Well rest assured that if you enjoy early NWOBHM-influenced heavy metal, these ten new tracks (plus two older ‘bonus’ tracks revisited) prove that older gentlemen can still rock, using the better recording technology of today to capture these songs and relive focused material with bluesy power and smooth melodies, harmonies, and hooks.
A no frills base focused on the twin guitar action of Magnus Jarl and Mikael A Deild, the mid-tempo opener “The Pusher” sits in that Accept/Judas Priest mold, the wah-wah enhanced lead break and semi-shifting groove mechanics keeping listener interest. The magnificent airy charm and potent register for vocalist/keyboardist Anders Wallentoft keeps Axewitch in that premiere European class – along with smooth background harmony support from Björn to ensure the Dokken-like “In Pitch Black Darkness” and driving “Lie to Me” command repeat attention for high quality output. The bluesy, groove-oriented side of the group comes out on “Boogie of Death” – drummer Mats Johanson flexing some of his older mechanics and influences in a Sabbath meets Thin Lizzy manner. Axewitch of course are not setting the world on fire in terms of their songwriting – they carve out a familiar niche, placing emphasis on the right riff/hook combinations, align them with the best vocal melodies and harmonies, and drive this material quickly into your brain. The updated versions of “Nightmare” and “Axewitch” (circling back to their 1982 demo) prove that these Swedes deserve accolades back then for their headbanging songs, even if they didn’t necessarily rise to the level of other European acts during that period.
Younger folks probably will find Axewitch too old-school or old-fashioned for their tastes. But don’t discount tried and true principles when executed this well, as Axewitch hopefully can churn out another album or two like this down the line.