Live report: Wytch Hazel, Spell, Parish

written by Daniel Leons-Marder 

I was lucky enough to see two of the brightest lights of the UK classic metal scene, alongside one of my favourite international acts in Canada’s Spell, hosted at the Boston Music Room in London on June 2nd.

Parish, who are local favourites, open the proceedings. Their sound really sets them apart from other bands in the scene and whilst the Metal Archives lists them as a heavy/doom act, this perhaps fails to capture the full ethos behind the band, who describe themselves as ‘pastoral proto-metal’. Their most obvious influences would seem to be bands like Budgie and Blue Öyster Cult, and of course Black Sabbath

They kick off with the eponymous “Parish“, which like many of their songs combines heavy sabbath-esque riffing with more stripped back sections. The chorus of this song is catchy and gets a singalong from the decent crowd who have turned out early. “Cunning Murrell“ like the opener has a fantastic main riff that really gets us moving. Bassist Tony Hughes, who has taken to the stage in a Lord of the Rings t-shirt, is a natural performer and endears himself to the crowd as he bounds around the stage. 

The second half of Parish’s set is incredibly strong. “The Earth Stopper“ is one of the highlights of the night. It is a beautiful, atmospheric track with great vocal melodies and where the bass shines. Joe Bulmer’s drumming on this song isn’t flashy, but it is perfectly executed and adds a lot to the riffs. “Soil and Scythe“ is in a similar vein. It can be a gamble for a band to play more atmospheric tracks in a short opening set, but it works well for Parish, who do manage to live up to their medieval imagery through the general character of their music and lyrics, despite the relative absence of folk elements in their music, something which can be a bit of a cliché that at times weighs on bands with similar themes. “Apothecary“ is the perfect way to close their set, James Paulley plays one of his best solos on this song, and it is one that suits his voice particularly well. The song retains the same early 70s influences with a powerful, anthemic chorus that is up there with the best moments of the night.

Spell mark their arrival by setting up some incense sticks at the front of the stage. Their addition to the existing lineup generated huge excitement in London and was unexpected. They and Wytch Hazel are both signed to Bad Omen Records, and Cam thanks the label for bringing the two bands together ahead of their performances at Muskelrock. In the run up to their first ever London show, Spell had shared some of their sightseeing around our wonderful city, visiting Baker Street (the home of Sherlock Holmes), the British Museum (where live guitarist, Jeff Black of Gatekeeper, posed with the Sutton Hoo helmet in a nod to Saxon’s Killing Ground, though which could have easily been a reference to Isen Torr’s Mighty and Superior), and Karl Marx’s tomb in Highgate Cemetery, one of London’s large Victorian necropolises. They open with the brilliant “Ultraviolet“, a real crowd pleaser, before going into “Fatal Breath“, which shows off Cam’s skill both as a bassist and a vocalist and is genuinely very impressive to watch him nail live. 

Spell are one of those bands who manage to sound even better live than on record, and “Opulent Decay“ is a great example. The whole song sounds that bit heavier and more profound when played live. “Hades Embrace“ starts with live musician Gabriel/Gabby on the synth intro, who brings a great 80s synth visual to Spell’s live set up. Jeff absolutely nails the solos on this song, who are played by Al on the record. On that note, Al’s drumming absolutely makes this song, adding layers of complexity to the music which hugely enhance the experience. “Fever Dream“ elicits a huge singalong for the chorus, but it is the appropriately dream-like verses that steal the show. “Madame Psychosis“ was probably the strongest offering of Spell’s set, with the vocal harmonies being executed perfectly and coming across more clearly than on record. 

They play the demure and graceful “Dawn Wanderer“ and the heaviest song of their set with wonderful live dynamics, “Cruel Optimism“, before closing with “Watcher of the Seas“. This was a slightly unexpected closing track for me, as it wasn’t one I was aware was amongst their better known songs, but it is captivating live, and it is vocally perhaps the most impressive performance of the night. 

Wytch Hazel are celebrating the release of their fourth album, Sacrament, and open their set with “The Fire’s Control“ from the album, a live debut for the song, which is a very Wytch Hazel song, combining 70s metal guitar with mainstream rock of that era, and a brilliantly constructed collection of vocal melodies. The band look so striking in their medieval stage clothing that you are gradually transported to the past through their set. 

“I Am Redeemed“ is one of the strongest songs of the set, and is one that the band clearly loves playing together. Colin leads the crowd in a singalong for the intro of “Still We Fight“. The staccato-heavy sections in this song provide an opportunity for drummer Aaron Hay to shine, and the solos from Colin and Alex are well received. “Archangel“ is a chance for another big crowd singalong – this gig clearly provided no shortage of those! Wytch Hazel have several tracks where the vocals are heavily layered with harmonies in the studio and they don’t try to replicate this live. This makes for a rawer experience live, but it is a testament to the strength of the songwriting that these sections are still so powerful, and catchy, with a single vocal part. 

“Dry Bones“ is of course another fan favourite. A live improvement is how audible Andy Shackleton’s bass lines are then on record, which makes a big difference in what is one of the greatest intro riffs I’ve heard in recent years. There is a huge cheer as Colin hits the high note at the end of each chorus. At this point the members of Spell (and Parish) have joined the crowd and are enjoying Wytch Hazel as much as the rest of us. Following a massive reaction to two further songs from the new album, singles “A Thousand Years“ and “Angel of Light“, Colin remarks ‘you’re alright, you’ to the crowd, which could be the height of compliments from a singer from Lancashire to a crowd in London. 

“Wait on the Wind“ brings the energy level down, but is reflective and well-crafted as a song, and provides a chance for the band to demonstrate their versatility and is a wonderful showcase for both guitarists, before the band launch into “Spirit and Fire“. Colin’s voice is actually starting to tire at this point, but it doesn’t detract from the incredible atmosphere as he soldiers through each song. They follow with “We Will Be Strong“, standing out with its twin guitar harmonies and solos, and the self-titled “Wytch Hazel“.

Colin thanks the crowd again before playing “Chain Yourself“, released as a split 7’ with Spell. Colin comes across as a truly likeable person, and seems genuinely touched by the reaction to their music. They close with “Strong Heart“, with the crowd clapping along, and it is yet another song that has the crowd singing. Wytch Hazel have an approach to songwriting that it is accessible without compromising the integrity of their songwriting, and it makes them one of the most enjoyable live experiences on the scene today.

Wytch Hazel (pic: Daniel)

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