Witch Fever – ‘Congregation’

By Ash Bebbington

“They won’t take no for an answer as if they ever fucking ask,” spits Witch Fever vocalist Amy Walpole on ‘Sour’ over the soundtrack of stomping doom instrumentals, “yeah we incite this violence, cause nothing ever changed in silence.” Punk bands that are truly incensed and use their music to talk (or scream) about important issues are sadly in the minority in recent years. That’s certainly not an issue with Witch Fever. From the first track to the very last, ‘Congregation’ is a rallying cry that’s soaked with righteous anger, channelled through a playful punk spirit.

Witch Fever have been getting a lot of hype over the last few years, and their debut full-length release shows that it’s completely justified. It can be tough for punk bands to find their sound and stand out from the pack on their first record, but Witch Fever already have a sound that has character in abundance and is immediately recognisable as their own.

Alisha Yarwood’s guitar work is a huge part of this, with low-end doomy guitar lines that give the music a real groove. This is bolstered by the chunky bass lines of Alex Thompson and the relentless drumming of Annabelle Joyce. However, the star of the show is vocalist Amy Walpole, whose Mancunian drawl and poignant lyrics combine to create a spellbinding performance. The range of vocal techniques she deploys – from screams and snarls to melodic croons – is incredible, and lends the album a real sense of unpredictability. The music is often heavy but isn’t afraid to bring the volume down at points, giving those parts even more heft when they do come in.

Lyrically, ‘Congregation’ is inspired by Walpole’s experiences of growing up as a member of the Charismatic Church which she left when she was 16. Specifically, she focuses on the patriarchal nature of the church, and how the issues with sexism and misogyny she experienced there are a microcosm of wider society. She says: “It’s not even specifically Christianity or faith, it’s that the men who run it have fucked it. They get this tiny ounce of power and run with it. I’m not even convinced half of them believe in God, to be honest. It’s just so easy to use the fear of God to control people.”

Indeed, Walpole borrows from the church on the album’s opener ‘Blessed Be Thy’, named after a hymn she had to sing every Sunday. It’s a superb introduction to the album, with driving instrumentals leading towards a crushingly heavy chorus.

The record continues in suitably raucous fashion with ‘Beauty & Grace’ and ‘At The Core’, two doomy ragers that’ll make you want to throw yourself into a mosh pit. On these tracks, the way that the swinging, almost bluesy guitar lines and erratic vocals come together is an absolute joy.

On title track ‘Congregation’, the record takes a sharp left turn. It’s a more expansive, softer track that allows Walpole the space to lament over her religious background. It’s the longest track on the record at nearly five minutes. However, that’s not to say that Witch Fever don’t also understand the value of brevity; many of the record’s best moments clock in at around two minutes, such as  ‘Sour’, ‘Bloodlust’, and ‘Deadlights. The latter is a particular highlight, a chaotic cacophony of noise rock delight.

‘Market’ is one of the album’s standout moments, with an absolutely colossal chorus and Black Sabbath-style riffs. If you’re looking for music that makes you want to bang your head, look no further.

As the final notes of the album’s most melodic track, ‘Slow Burn’ ring out, sounding every bit like the end of the record, Witch Fever drops its biggest surprise. Just as you think the album is over, closing track ‘12’ comes roaring out of the speakers. Walpole is at her most outraged here, slamming the church for the negative impact it had on her when she was only a child.

When you listen to this record, there’s a palpable sense that you’re hearing the start of something very special indeed. In a genre that’s been crying out for new voices, Witch Fever is one of the most exciting new punk bands we’ve heard for a long time, and ‘Congregation’ is comfortably one of the best debut rock records of 2022.

ASH BEBBINGTON

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