There’s something sinister lurking in the woods on the latest record from Norwegian horror thrashers, Critical Solution. With Barbara the Witch, the arch story-tellers have returned with another incredibly nightmarish tale full of chills, thrills and – above all – utterly fantastic heavy metal. Having displayed their talent for weaving immersive storylines with face-melting thrash on previous releases Evil Never Dies and Sleepwalker, this latest account of terror, black magic, and the dark lord himself takes the creepiness factor off the scale.
Based in the village of Natas Fo Live, the story (based on true events) focuses on the horror that befalls the villagers at the hands of the Barbara Belladonna, aka Barbara the Witch. Narrated mesmerizingly throughout by the original ‘God Of Hellfire’ Arthur Brown, the band tear into riffs that are as tight as the suffocating grip of the story, with the machine gun vocal delivery driving forward the story whilst also adding its own visceral savagery. Although the band can still thrash at a pace many only aspire to, it’s the melodic refrains and hooks in the title track that hint at something exciting that’s happening with this album. Helter-skelter guitars are furious and intricately technical, and the personality they add to the story is a vital part of what makes it work.
Transitioning from classical guitars into some of the most furious riffs they’ve ever laid down, ‘Red Hooded Devils’ is a swirling storm that circles the mouth of hell itself, before an organ interlude helps paint a fascinating picture of the majesty of the satanic ritual. The variety in the song writing is one of the most captivating parts of this record. Songs will often go through several evolutions, with so many addictive riffs and exquisite solos that they’re almost past you before you know it. No two songs are the same, yet they flow together in a way that delivers the theatricality of the story and, at the same time, can stand alone as excellent songs in their own right.
The story is all-consuming, and Barbara’s thrilling return from beyond the grave (whoops, spoiler alert!) gives you goose bumps, making you check over your shoulder every time. When the headless horseman arrives (to up the horror quota even more!), the guitars and drums thunder like his horse’s hooves, and the seismic riffage of ‘Officer Green’ makes it feel like the whole world is falling apart. ‘A Lady in White’ is a suspenseful and twistedly beautiful instrumental, whereas ‘Return of the Witch’ is spiky and frenetic. I have to say that the latter has one of the most satisfyingly melodic vocals, I’ve found myself humming it long after the accursed wretch has met her fate…again.
Having recently signed with Crime Records, Critical Solution should finally have the clout they need to get the recognition they deserve. Having worked once again at Sonic Train Studios with producer Andy La Rocque at the helm, the band boast an impressed pedigree and a number of superstar friends. In fact, the bonus disc, Covers from Hell, sees Whit Crane (Ugly Kid Joe) hammering out a suitably belligerent version of Motorhead’s ‘Killed by Death’ with the band. The band has a potent mix of talent, vision and hard-work, and what they’re capable of achieving is easily as scary as the stories they capture on record.
- Natas Fo Live (feat. Arthur Brown)
- The Village
- Barbara the Witch
- Red Hooded Devils
- Peter Crow
- The Burning Pyre (feat. Arthur Brown)
- End of the Beginning (feat. Arthur Brown)
- The Headless Horseman
- Officer Green
- A Lady in White
- Return of the Witch
- Into the Abyss (feat. Arthur Brown)
Review by Alex Bishop