It seems entirely fitting that in the days leading up to Halloween, I am reviewing the debut album, entitled ‘Well of Spells’, of a band named Seawitch that is fronted by real-life witch Fiona Horne of Def FX fame. This no-nonsense, ripping rockâ€™nâ€™roll release is the latest Iâ€™ve heard in what seems to be a real trend in rock and metal spheres to imbue deliciously fuzzy retro elements that echo heavy musicâ€™s origin in the 60s and 70s. But the key to making old things new again is to reframe those classic tones and flavours with a fresh and modern take so that the revival is accessible for audiences across generations. That is certainly what Seawitch have achieved with the signature sound they demonstrate on this record, and itâ€™s largely what the album itself pulls off, bar a few missteps along the way.
What sets this album apart from many in its stoner rock ilk, from a thematic standpoint, is how strongly it leans into Horneâ€™s life experience as a witch, exploring philosophies, ideas and themes from the practice of witchcraft that feel highly relevant for our time. Itâ€™s classic old-school rockâ€™nâ€™roll revitalised through a feminist lens, and itâ€™s fresh, fun and energetic. The aspect of the album that mainly lets it down is the production. Though itâ€™s clear that a thoroughly fuzzy, 70s production style is suited to the four-pieceâ€™s sound, the drums and guitar tone in particular could have benefited from being mixed more crisply, to maximise their impact and resonance. However, overall, ‘Well of Spells’ is a solid debut album from a band that witches and heavy music fans alike would have a blast moshing along to.
The album opens with first single Witches Forever, easing us in with some light, soulful acoustic guitars and a warm bass line that are straight out of Woodstock. Horneâ€™s opening lines set the tone for the album to come: â€œWitches forever came to learn / What they thought they could heal / No longer shall we burn / We are what is neededâ€. Delivered in her powerful rock alto thatâ€™s something of a cross between Joan Jett and Stevie Nicks, these lines pack a punch with the ample reverb taking us right back to a bygone era. When the fuzzy, riff-laden, chugging guitars kick in, paired with Horneâ€™s vocals itâ€™s like the lovechild of Fleetwood Mac and Led Zeppelin with the defiant, anti-establishment attitude of Black Sabbath, and some distinctly 90s grunge flavours in there for good measure. These are musicians from the 90s bringing a free-loving rock sound to the 21st century, after all.
Second album single Force is one ridiculously catchy tune. Guitarist Dave (Spiff) Hopkins gets to flex both his rhythm and lead chops here, with a driving riff underscoring the track and glittering, briefly shreddy lead passages jumping to prominence in response to Horneâ€™s vocals in a question-and-answer style. There are some great guitar solos in this track, and credit must also be given to Matt Hamilton on the drums, who really knocks it out of the park with some punchy snare fills. I love the chant of â€œFree meâ€ in the chorus that turns the outdated trope of â€œwitchcraft = evilâ€ on its head, with Horne instead describing how tapping into our own individual magical force is what will free our souls, rather than consuming us in sin and corruption.
Artemis Blue follows with similarly upbeat riffs and the addition of psychedelic lead guitars to the mix to fuse in that retro groove. Jimi Hendrix fans will adore the guitar work in this track, as well as the previous one, with the guitars often having just as much to say as the vocals. This leads into Shadows, which is paradoxically the most uplifting and energetic track weâ€™ve heard yet, with some subtle yet effective psychedelic synths and triumphant lyrics such as â€œLet the shadows fall behind meâ€. Dark Knight is next up, and this track is probably the standout one on the album for me with a powerful chorus driven by the resounding chant of â€œLift me higher / Purge from me my darkest hourâ€. Itâ€™s a little slower and steadier than the frenzy of the previous tracks, but this gives the luxurious riffs more space to breathe so that the listener can really sink into the sound, until the track kicks off like a horse bolting from the gate for the final minute.
The somewhat darker Esbat features vocal lines layered in a very interesting way, with spoken word duelling with the main vocal melody, and a stellar guitar solo to boot. Melancholy and mystic ballad Flowers follows this for a breath of fresh air, with intoxicating chants of â€œLet it goâ€ floating through the track and gentle synths and chimes tinkling away to enhance the magical quality. Having been on this rollicking ride so far, itâ€™s therefore a slight anti-climax when we get to the unexpectedly doomy final track Memento Mori – it feels like the energy level drops quite a bit, taking the wind out of our sails. There are some fantastic elements in this track, like the literal rattle of chains in the background that calls to mind the image of a chained seawitch breaking free of her ocean bounds, and the track does kick back up to higher intensity in the final minute or so, but it takes a while to get there and feels too little too late. Itâ€™s a curious way to end the album after all that consistently driving rock, and I think it would have benefited from building on those newly introduced doom elements towards an extra track, to round out the circle, so to speak.
Choice of closing track and production value notwithstanding, ‘Well of Spells’ is a highly enjoyable debut album that packs a punch and reinvigorates classic rock for a modern age. Seawitch offers a catchy, no-frills take on stoner rock on this record that is infused with their undeniably spellbinding charm. With a little polishing, and stronger production on future records to build upon the fantastic foundation shown in ‘Well of Spells’, this band has the potential to bewitch any classic heavy music fan.
Lucky Melbourne fans can catch Seawitch live at their album launch on Halloween night, the Rockâ€™Nâ€™Roll Halloween Ball, at The Tote – TICKETS HERE.
‘Well of Spells’ is out now via Cheersquad Records and Tapes
BUY / LISTEN HERE
Thanks to Dave Laing Publicity