‘The devil has all the best tunes’ is the biggest cliché in the book of heavy metal – and Wytch Hazel are living proof. The Lancashire four-piece draw from a well of classic influences – Iron Maiden, UFO, late-70s Jethro Tull, cult NWOBHM band Pagan Altar – and spin it into something familiar yet new. But they’re set apart from today’s fellow trad-metal acolytes by singer/guitarist Colin Hendra’s deep-seated Christian faith, something which colours his lyrics and informs his band’s entire essence.
“I don’t see us as a ‘Christian band’,” says Hendra, who was raised in a religious household. “But music is one of the most spiritual experiences you can have, and essentially that comes from Jesus. That’s the core of it: he is a healing power. We can all be healed by melody.”
Belief isn’t a prerequisite for enjoying Wytch Hazel, although an appreciation for classic metal is. Their fourth album, IV: Sacrament, is a heavenly rush of galloping riffs and spiralling melodies that favours classic songwriting over Stryper-style proselytising.
“I think there’s something for everybody in what we do,” says Hendra, “irrespective of whether or not they’re religious.”
Hendra founded Wytch Hazel as a teenager in 2010. The initial idea was both amusing and intriguing: what would a medieval heavy metal band sound like? That fascination extended to both the name (witch hazel is a herb long valued for its healing, antiseptic properties) and a tunics-and-tights look that’s vintage NWOBHM by way of the Knights Templar.
Wytch Hazel’s first demo and 2012’s The Truth EP caught the attention of the small but devoted underground trad-metal community that exists on online forums. Not everyone bought into what they did. There were suggestions that they should ditch “the Christian thing”, something which only made Hendra double down on what he wanted Wytch Hazel to be.
“I thought: ‘Absolutely no way,’” he says. “If you’re being disingenuous, it’s not real, is it?”
He was right to stick to his guns. Where 2016’s debut album Prelude and 2018’s follow-up II: Sojourn were works-in-progress, 2020’s stellar III: Pentecost marked the point where Hendra’s vision of the ancient meeting the modern came sharply into focus. If it had been released 40 years earlier with a Martin Birch production, Pentecost would have been fêted as an all-time classic.
IV: Sacrament continues that hot streak. Irrespective of the belief system it’s built on, this is metal as a positive force – even if it stems from Hendra’s own fears and anxieties.
“I struggle with doubt, I’ve got a general sense that time is running out,” he says. “And this was a difficult album to write. But I’ve been a hundred per cent honest, and that’s cathartic for me.”
IV: Sacrament is out now via Bad Omen Records.