Beautiful, sublime, soaring, and powerful. Those are the words that describe Wytch Hazel III: Pentecost, the third album from Wytch Hazel, one of the best albums of 2020 and what has quickly become one of my favorite albums of all time.
Wytch Hazel is comprised of Colin Hendra on guitars and vocals, Alex Haslam on guitars, Andy Shackleton on bass, and Jack Spencer on drums. Coming from Lancaster, UK, they suggest on their website that this album summons to mind "fevered images of Robin Hood and his Merry Men grooving to Jethro Tull and Thin Lizzy," and to this I would add Wishbone Ash and Deep Purple as well. The album is a blend of moody, mystical music that seems to reach straight from the pages of Scripture through the mists of time to declare its message in the 21st century.
Wytch Hazel III: Pentecost opens with "He Is The Fight," a number that kicks off with an up tempo rhythm and bright melody despite describing our ongoing war with Satan. At the 2:30 mark, however, we get this lyric. "Rise up and fight, we will sing. We serve a mightier King," and this becomes the first clue that this will be an album of victory and triumph in Jesus Christ. The song crescendos to its end with the warning, "Beware the great deceiver, angel of light. He is a roaring lion, he is the fight!"
As the cymbals fade out, "Spirit and Fire" cues up and takes us straight to Acts 2 and the gathering of the disciples who received the Holy Spirit in cloven tongues of fire. This became a music video for the band and calls up a great '80s hard rock sound that thunders to a close with a heavy ending.
Speaking of thunder, it is a pounding bass and drums rhythm section that announces the start of the third track, "I Am Redeemed," which then takes off in a whirlwind attack. "Oh, I am made free, only by Calvary," the lyrics proclaim in their story of one man's redemption, leading Colin Hendra to declare, "Lucifer, though you know my disgrace, I will not hide my face, I will not hide my face. Lucifer, you'll have no hold on me, for I am a slave made, I am a slave made free. I am redeemed." One of the great things about Wytch Hazel is their appreciation for dynamics. This song builds and flows, and then, at the 2:30 mark, we are treated to an organ solo evocative of Jon Lord's epic work on the Hammond B3 in Deep Purple.
The lilting introduction to "Archangel" calls to mind another time and place and fits perfectly with the sun-drenched photo of the album cover that seems to come from a place long hidden in memory. This then kicks into a hard-driving lyric and melody describing the fall of Lucifer, ultimately asking why he should receive the glory when there is "One Who is greater, a mighty Savior, Lord and Creator, Lamb of God."
By this point on the album, we have been presented with certain undeniable facts. There is a spiritual realm in which there is an ongoing war between real beings, Lucifer and God, and we are caught up in it. This is refreshing in an age in which too much Christian music is sappy and emotional, both in musical and lyrical content. Wytch Hazel takes seriously the spiritual reality that the modern age seems to have disregarded.
"Dry Bones" would be a great song for one of the many reaction videos that have become popular on YouTube. Growling thunder opens the piece that expands into a driving rhythm section and then a lyric that takes us to Ezekiel 37. Colin Hendra's full throated vocal commands, "Awaken! Oh, awaken! See these dry bones, they will rise!" And rise the music does as he hits a soaring note on that last word that would make Michael Sweet of Stryper proud. Andy Shackleton's bass and Jack Spencer's drums grab you by your rock locks and force your head to bang in a song that is a pure rock anthem.
After this we get a bit of a rest with a three-minute instrumental called "Sonata." The strings and organ are once again evocative of that mystical place captured photographically on the cover. When this one comes on while I'm driving, I settle back into my seat and feel the cares of the day melt away. This song is a testament to the musical talent of this band and leaves us wondering how on earth lesser music could have a bigger following. De gustibus non disputandum est.
"Sonata" flows seamlessly into an upbeat rocker called "I Will Not," which even includes a bit of synthesizer that hearkens back to "Sweet Mistreater," an unreleased track on David Coverdale's 1978 second solo album, Northwinds. Where Coverdale's tune is a traditional blues-rock breakup song, this number proclaims, "I will not stand for this. I am much better than this," and becomes the anthem for anyone fighting against sin. And the guitar solo on this...oh, man! It is on fire! This is pure '70s/'80s rock at its finest.
Soft rain opens the next song, followed by violin that gives way to piano, all leading to a thundering, dark background to "Reap The Harvest." With its imagery of an "angel wielding fire," it takes us to the end of time that Jesus describes in Matthew 13. Jack Spencer's rat-a-tat-tat drums back up Colin Hendra's proclamation, "Death is coming, death is coming. I will not be afraid," and when the song concludes with the soft rain and piano once again, we are left asking ourselves if we will have such confidence in the ultimate moment.
"The Crown" begins with an acoustic guitar intro and vocal harmonies that indeed make you think of the age of Robin Hood. In fact, this would play well at your local Renaissance Fair. It is no fake sunshine tune, but acknowledges even as "we are falling down and we are losing ground" that "our future's safe and sound, and we will not lose our crown."
The final notes of that song become the introduction to the final number, "Ancient of Days." Mandolin as fine as anything in Led Zeppelin backs Deidre Trueman's powerful recitation of words from Daniel 7. Once those words have ended, the song explodes into the epic sound of a rock anthem that is a fitting closer for this album. The God of this song is not a wimpy, greeting card deity, but a "Abba Father, unlike no other, Yahweh eternal." He is the Ancient of Days, and we believe that He is a good God to Whom the lyrics invite us, "Bring your heart unto the Maker of all things, for He loves thee and He longs to give thee wings."
To be fair, Pentecost is not for everyone. You should only buy it if you like and appreciate serious musicianship, driving rock that has its roots in the '70s and '80s, melodies and harmonies that transport you to another time and place, and lyrics that enrich your walk with the living God of the Christian faith. If that is your cup of tea, however, then do what I did. Purchase it, put it on repeat, and listen to the entire album over and over and over again.
Style: Medieval/Classic Metal
Release date: october 30th, 2020
Format: CD, Vinyl
Label: Bad Omen Records
1. He is the Fight 03:44
2. Spirit and Fire 04:32
3. I Am Redeemed 03:52
4. Archangel 04:22
5. Dry Bones 05:06
6. Sonata 03:01
7. I Will Not 04:01
8. Reap The Harvest 04:44
9. The Crown 04:19
10. Ancient of Days 05:07