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Axe To Grind

Hells Headbangers (2013)
Rating: 7/10

A long, long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away – which I like to call the 1980s – there existed a Danish band called Witch Cross. These cult metalheads only ever released one platter, that being 1984’s Fit For Fight which, in heavy metal folklore, has become a somewhat sought after release in its original form.

Despite several demo recordings Witch Cross never got the recognition they deserved. Maybe it was because of the amateurish artwork that graced their debut album cover, or simply due to the fact, like so many 80s bands, they were simply swallowed in the wave of metal mania with too many bands doing the same thing.

However, almost 30 years later, Witch Cross are back, with three members from the 80s, Mike “Wlad” Kock (guitar), Jan “Little John Field” Normark (bass) and Lars “Tony Adams” Bjørnstad (drums), being joined on this new 11-track album by guitarist Paul Martin (aka Poul Martin Neilsen) and British vocalist Kevin Moore.

Sure, the halcyon days are long gone – the lo-fi quality of that classic debut was very much of its time – but Axe To Grind is still very much of that vintage variety and a decent little stab at that 80s style of fantasy-oriented metal.

Witch Cross have always been about dungeons, dragons and evil forces lurking in every dark corner, so the cover art alone should no doubt draw you in, and only after staring at the sleeve for aeons can you fully appreciate the stuffy quality of such a band.

The brief opening instrumental, ‘March Of The Vikings’, leads us straight into the murky depths of ‘Demon In The Mirror’, which features a sinister mid-paced riff and hard drum sound, but I’m immediately drawn to Kevin Moore’s vocals which remind me heavily of Saxon’s Biff Byford. This is confirmed further by his performance on ‘Ride With The Wind’, a rollicking little number that is standard metal at its heart but features a magical little riff and dashing drum.

The true anthem of the album though is the thumping ‘Metal Nation’, which features another killer riff and where Moore’s vocals take on a rougher quality as he barks “We live together, we march together” over a molten riff. The guitars of Kock and Martin are worth their weight in gold, and for those who remain unconvinced then check out the steaming ‘Awakening – Pandora’s Box’ and the pumping title track. These two tracks sound as if they’ve been wrenched from the 80s, and despite being dusted down retain their original musty charm.

Witch Cross are very much 80s metal, but what separates them from the average hordes of the day is the guitars. And while original vocalist Alex “Savage” Nyborg Madsen was more a Robert Plant-style (Led Zeppelin) crooner, Kevin Moore does a mighty fine job at filling his boots.

The true heavyweight punchers of the record are the monstrous ‘Part Of The Machine’ and the strangely titled ‘Chelsea 100’, which is the weightiest track on the album. Both feature mighty riffs and ground-shaking cohesion until we are lead away from the darkness by the sweeping closing instrumental ‘Beyond The Veil’.

Axe To Grind is a welcome return to the scene for these cult metallers. I just hope they don’t leave as long for the next one, otherwise they’ll be giving Axl Rose (Guns N’ Roses) a run for his money when it comes to the longest wait for a new album! So, overall, Axe To Grind doesn’t match the creaky quality of that debut, but it’s still heavy metal at its most sincere.

Neil Arnold

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