Burning Witches – The Witch of the North
Written by Kevin Tanza on October 22, 2021
Burning Witches – The Circle of Five
There are some albums in a band’s career that becomes the one for them. Deep Purple’s In Rock, Iron Maiden’s The Number of the Beast, Judas Priest’s British Steel… the list goes on. Regardless of the band’s status or legacy, most of the ones that have managed to have lasting careers always seem to have that one album that makes them a lot more known and establishes them as an act that really deserves your attention.
I fully believe that’s the case with Burning Witches’ 2021 release, The Witch of the North. That this is the album where this band is going to get a lot more notoriety and where they are going to get a lot more credit in the foreseeable future.
The cover of The Witch of the North album
This band was formed by guitarist Romana Kalkuhl in 2015 after she left the group Atlas & Axis in 2014. This group had released three albums before this one (2017’s self-titled debut, 2018’s Hexenhammer and 2020’s Dance with the Devil) and they play a very traditional brand of Heavy Metal that has the classic influences of Maiden, Priest, Dio, Warlock and a bit of Thrash Metal thrown in there, thus making for a very enjoyable experience.
But I personally think that The Witch of the North finds them at the peak of their powers and with new guitarist Larissa Ernst adding a new layer of quality to the band and vocalist Laura Guldemond improving on what she did on her debut with the group, Dance with the Devil. So this is a band in really good shape and it shows as you listen to each track.
The Witch of the North.
The album starts with a short intro called Winter’s Wrath, which is mostly acoustic guitars and Gregorian chants that are complemented by Laura’s chilling vocals near the end. It is a moody and atmospheric intro and it works because it perfectly represents the cold nature of the cover and what we’re about to witness. Shout to Larissa and Romana’s work on guitars on this intro because it really sets the mood for the album.
Then we get the title track and I love it when a band starts with a song that truly represents what the album and they are all about. The Witch in the North has the galloping Maiden rhythm, but they manage to combine Laura’s harsh vocals to add more intensity to the heaviness of the song and the chorus elevates the epic nature of the song. In a way is simple, but simplicity also requires a degree of technique and know-how as songwriters.
For those that have followed the band throughout the years, they know that guitars are Burning Witches’ strong suit and the middle section here, with Larissa and Romana switching guitar solos, is certainly one of the highlights of the album and shows how Larissa is a very good fit for their sound and musical sensitivities.
If I have one small gripe is that I wish there was a bit more of rhythm changes in the song’s structure, but I understand that wasn’t their focus because this title track is meant to be more of an anthem than a complex track.
We get a bit of that Painkiller-era of Judas Priest with the following song, Tainted Ritual. Here we can hear a bit more of the band’s more intense and heavier side, with drummer Lala Frischknecht definitely stealing the show, if you ask me.
I think this is a bit of “sleeping track”; I don’t think you’re going to like it at first, but the more you listen to it, you tend to appreciate a lot more of what the guitarists, Lala on drums and Laura does on vocals. Plus, we can’t forget Jeanine Grob’s input on bass, adding density to the groove and complementing Lala quite well as a rhythm base.
It’s a good song. I prefer the title track, but this one definitely shows some of the band’s heavier and more intricate elements from an instrumental perspective.
We Stand as One.
I think the middle part of the album is the strongest one and it starts with what has already become a bit of a “classic” in the band’s catalog, We Stand as One. Obviously meant as an anthem to unify their supporters and the band as a whole, this track is a bit of combination of the previous two songs and I have to say that it works very well, with that galloping rhythm and some really powerful guitar riffs.
The chorus is the big selling point and I’m sure that it must be a ton of fun to sing along with during a Burning Witches concert. The song has a bit 80s Accept vibe, mixed with that Priest influence that I mentioned before. It’s definitely one of the big hitters in this album.
Flight of the Valkyries.
Flight of the Valkyries is actually my favorite song in the entire Burning Witches catalog. I can take or leave the one-minute intro, but once they kick into gear, this song just pummels. That combination of aggression and speed in this song is remarkable and it has a bit of a Manowar thing going on but without sounding like they were going for that angle, thus giving them their own identity in that regard.
The whole band is absolutely thriving, but I think Laura Guldemond’s vocals are at their absolute best here. I would even go as far as stating that this is her best vocal performance since she joined Burning Witches and really finds herself in her element: she sounds commanding, aggressive and melodic at the same time, which is something very difficult to achieve as a vocalist, so that’s something worth pointing out.
Larissa is still shredding and proving how much of a great addition she has been to the fold. Her guitar playing adds a bit of technicality and melody that takes the band’s sound to a whole new level and her solo here is one of the finest in the entire album.
I think this is the perfect song to get people into the band and the best track of the entire album, so you should definitely give this one (and the whole record, really) a listen.
The Circle of Five is the next song and it shows the band’s Thrash Metal influence and some of the most singing that Laura does on this record. It’s a powerful song, with Larissa and Romana doing some of their best riffs and the rhythm is simply too good, staying in your head from the get-go.
The chorus doesn’t fully work with me considering the style of the song, but I won’t deny that is catchy and that it stays in your head, which is the goal of any good chorus. But as a whole, the song just tears it apart from beginning to end and it’s one of the best songs of the entire album.
Lady of the Woods.
Lady of the Woods might be viewed as one of the album’s “ballads”, but the structure of this song reminds me to Dio songs like All the Fools Sailed Away where the tempo is slower and there a much more epic nature, especially when we reach the chorus. This is certainly the case and the band shows a bit of versatility, which is always nice.
Of course, when you have songs where the tempo is a lot slower, the vocalist has to deliver the goods and I think Laura does quite well in this scenario, although I think this particular song lacks a bit of punch to completely take over. It’s nice and it has some nice guitar work, but I feel that there is something missing to fully get you.
I like the main riff of Thrall and the song’s overall groove as it shows the heaviest tendencies of Burning Witches. This is where we can hear a bit of that Painkiller influence and also the influence of Thrash Metal in the band’s sound.
It’s a mid-tempo track but with a lot of intensity and some of the riffs that they throw here are simply phenomenal. Laura’s singing is a lot more aggressive than in previous songs and it fits with the overall mood of Thrall, so is definitely a very good combination.
I consider Nine Worlds to be the heaviest song of the entire album and for some reason it reminds a bit of Nailed to the Gun of Rob Halford’s Fight project in the 90s. Don’t know why. Anyway, this is where we can hear the band going all in and they simply destroy in the best sense of the world, combining powerful riffs with some good rhythm changes.
If you want Thrashy Heavy Metal, then this track is the one for you. It might seem a bit too “simple” for some people, but it requires a lot of technique to do what these musicians are doing in this song and, at least from my perspective, is one of the standout tracks of The Witch of the North.
I really like the riff parts of For Eternity, with that Balls to the Wall-era Accept influence on the guitars. Lala shines once again on drums and Laura pushes her register once again, making for a track that Judas Priest would have been proud to call theirs.
I do think that the chorus could have used a bit more work to be more impactful, but I think there are a lot of good stuff in this song in terms of riffing, soloing and the vocal work, which is always important. And I always want to make emphasis on the rhythm base because it can be very easy to forget about them when doing a review, but they are the ones keeping the pace and that’s a fundamental aspect of this album.
I like the fact that the band decided to end the album with the final actual song being a very heavy and straightforward track. Having said that, I have never enjoyed Dragon’s Dream, which is a shame because the guitar work is great, the drumming and bass is on point and the vocals are great, but I feel that the song lacks a certain final delivery to really move you.
But that’s just my personal opinion, of course. It still has a lot to like and I’m sure other people are going to find positive stuff on the song that perhaps I missed.
Cover of Savatage’s Hall of the Mountain King
The album ends with a quite outro known as Eternal Frost, which works as an electric guitar version of Winter’s Wrath in a way. You also have a cover of Savatage’s Hall of the Mountain King which is surprisingly excellent. I mention this last part because I tend to be a bit demanding with covers and Burning Witches does a phenomenal job here, really capturing the original feeling of the song but also adding a bit of their own attitude, which is always important.
It’s a pretty good album and I think it has a lot of repetition value. My only gripe is one that I have with a lot of modern records: way too many songs. The album would have been a bit better if they had fewer songs because it would make for a more intense experience from a listener’s perspective, but there are enough great tracks to keep you interested, anyway.
My other major criticism is that I think, production-wise, Laura’s vocals are a bit in the background and that makes for a slightly more difficult listening when it comes to appreciate her singing, but that’s minor stuff when compared to the great songs, solid musicianship and a very decent amount of musical hooks.
Definitely one of the best releases of 2021 and an album that you should get if you want classic Heavy Metal that simply doesn’t fuck around. And I also think is the album that is going to put Burning Witches in the mainstream of the Metal scene. Let’s wait and see. I will definitely be paying attention to that.
The Witch of the North is certainly a recommend from me.