wytchesIncubus Succubus are not a band that many people will have heard of, which is a shame, particularly if you are passionate about rock music and are looking for something with depth and originality. The band evolved from humble beginnings from a group of friends who met in that most fertile of band producing establishments, Art College. Sharing an interest in music and paganism the band mixed elements of rock and gothic music and pagan ideas and imagery and began the long slog to become, as they have been regarded for a long time now, “Britain’s Premier Pagan Rock Band”. This album is a best of the early work and came out in 1994 before several later line up changes which saw the replacement of a live drummer for a machine and the increased use of sequencers and samplers to create even more glorious creations.

But if there is such a category as Pagan Rock, what would that be all about. Unfortunately the term pagan has been hijacked in the media. With shows such as Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Charmed and the like spinning episodes that overtly use the ideology, people seem to have a warped idea of what paganism actually is. Similarly, musically the term pagan has been hijacked by a horde of black clad, gloomy, college fashion victims and every “misunderstood” patchouli smelling depressive seems to have decided that this is some sort of alternative fashion that makes them more interesting, enigmatic and mysterious. I know of which I speak, as a younger man I was once a bit of a Goth on the side but was thrown out for laughing. Without dwelling on what paganism means in spiritual terms, suffice it to say here its message is one of a celebration of the natural order of things, seasonal celebrations as well as the more ritualistic ideas that lie closer to the bone as well as an understanding of the history of the path itself and the injustices that have been done to it.

The track from which the album takes its name leads us into the affair in a riot of drums and a dark metal guitar riffs. The rhythm guitars are a distorted wall of sound, the leads are razor sharp and the drums dominated here more than they should, but at no point do the band loses site of the art of melody. Something to often sacrificed for power and impact. Once the song settles into its pace a glorious voice fills the space left as the instrumentalists back down. Candia has a unique vocal capacity, a wide range that often delivers the lower end of the register, remains feminine but has a dark and bass quality to it. That said when those high notes are reached for she also proves that she has the ability to hit the more normal female range with the best of them. “Wytches” is a song that pays homage to the ritualistic aspects of the path and weather you consider the lyrical content to be an imaginary fantasy that suits the music or something that you connect with as more than just a set of throw away rhetoric is up to you. Either way you end up with a glorious powerhouse of a track that sums up the band in their fullest throws and defines the more powerful end of their spectrum. There are elements both familiar and new here, Bands such as HIM, Nightwish and even Iron Maiden spring to mind immediately but the sound is also original enough to stand on its own two feet. Not a bad start to an album.

“Queen of the May” is an altogether more laid back affair, at least initially. A haunting mix of soft non-lyrical vocal and a sinister guitar line draw you in before things take off in a dedication to the arrival of the spring, new life and the light time of the year. Even when the chorus kicks the song up a gear it remains restrained and through out the song is held in check, never quite being allowed to run wild and all the better for it. It’s only during Tony McKormac’s brief guitar solo that it shifts a gear only to return to its normal pace afterwards. Ironically it is on this more subdued affair that you get more of an impression of Candia’s vocal prowess, you can hear a power in the voice as of yet unleashed but bubbling under waiting its moment. Of a similar nature is “Pagan Born” the ghostly backing vocals underpin the voice the restrained guitar power and the drums that are often tripping over themselves but by contrast to the former song here the halter is off and the song explodes into a frenzy of spiralling guitars, rising and thumping bass lines. The dynamic rises and falls a number of times before heading off in a blind rush towards the close of the song.

In total contrast to the power that has been displayed up until now, we are treated to a ballad in the true sense of the word. “Gypsy Lament” is a stripped down duet between a 12-string guitar and a voice. It’s basically a love song but in typical IS style is woven from images of the natural work, the dark earth and a primordial emotion. Many ballads are sickly affairs, a twee display of sixth form poetic emotion, not so here. There is a real sense of love and loss of, beauty and passion, deep heart felt feeling rather than clichd meaningless words. “Leveller” crashes back with a powerful keyboard led rock riff, the first time Steve Paine has been let loose to dominate a song and here his twenty notes to the dozen works perfectly against a powerful guitar backdrop. “Call Out My Name” is in many ways similar to a lot that we have already heard on this album but creates its own identity from the glorious vocal delivery that takes little time in becoming familiar to the listener, it has an immediacy that makes you want to join in. Combine that with the music that makes you want to get up and dance and you have the essence of what IS do.

And “Conquistadors” also seems to be a good summation of their two extremes. Beginning with just a voice and acoustic guitar over a keyboard wash and a minimal input from bass and drums this song builds in power, employing all the normal tricks and some sumptuous mass choral parts in the very depths of the song matching the dark subject matter. This song tells of the Spanish conquest of central America in the renaissance period and the atrocities that were committed in the name of the Christian church and reminds us that the tern pagan applies in a very general sense to cultures across the world and throughout time, many who have suffered in the name of religious intolerance and human greed. But this is not an anti-Christian band, but one that is culturally and historically aware and is able to use this to give warnings against mans injustice to fellow man and does it by creating some wonderful music. Similar lyrical content raises its head in “Burning Times” an ode to the Inquisitions and Witch finders of our past. The music kicks into a relentless rock drive from the first and doesn’t let up, but alongside this overdrive rock-a-rama we are treated to some sublime lyrical delivery the trademark sharp edged lead solo and again a sense of melody that stops the song from self destructing into a musical quantity of quality which many bands seem to fall into. Its not always the amount of notes you play, the speed of delivery or the beats per minute count which is important but knowing which are the right notes to give the maximum effect; IS show that they have a good understanding of both concepts.

The rock continues with “Song To Pan” a devotional work to the free spirit that under pins many pagan beliefs, the guitars here making this song into one of the heaviest deliveries on the album, a wall of thunderous sounds and haunting vocal beauty. “Enchantment” is a much more original work, combining whiplash guitar riffs and a slow burning pace that builds in power and then drops back from whence it came. Candia’s vocals never sounded more wonderful (I would have used the word Ethereal but I used up all of this months quota on my review of Enya’s Amarantine album) and the keyboard breaks never more otherworldly and this song more than any other featured here clearly show the bands understanding of musical dynamic A different twist begins “Catherine” as a brooding, booming bassline is given centre stage with a single guitar filling the background space, subdued lyrics and simple drumming falling behind it, but its not until the repetitive chorus that the song begins to come alive. It remains very sombre, even when the pace has been picked up and the alternate use of mass male vocal and single female voice makes for an interesting contrast. It is an effective but simple idea; a song that works but doesn’t need to go on for too long and as such is over before you know it, leaving you wanting more. That want is sated by the ecclesiastical keyboard introduction of “Church of Madness” and as these Bach-esque tones give way to full blown metal guitars and Candia’s hard hitting tale of Torquemada and the Spanish Inquisition, this song grows to become one of the more powerful on the album. Two more songs pass in similar vein before we come to the final track “Devils”. With Bob Gardener drumming for his life and guitars and keyboard mixing in a wall of undefined noise the vocals are laid back in contrast to the music behind it. There is a hint of madness itself in the composition of the song, eerie vocals occasionally drift through like disembodied ghosts and all the time a relentless onslaught of music drives us on the edge of the abyss and finally it is replaced by silence and this collection of the bands work is at a close.

The band have had a longer history since this album was compiled than before it and it may not be overly representative of their current work, though its certainly not a million miles away. That said it’s a great snapshot of their early days and certainly highlights the bands philosophy and musical and lyrical trappings. Its essentially rock, although for reasons given before they seem to have picked up a gothic tag, but if you like your rock dark and mystical, then this is for you. Even if lyrically this is something that you don’t necessarily relate to it’s a music that has the quality to move you mind, body and soul. Whether it makes you want to dance around like a whirling dervish fist punching the air or makes you want to relax and let the haunting beauty wash over you, its an album that you will want to play over and over again.

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