Witch Fever: Manchester doom-punks' dark magic holds London spellbound

Fast-rising cult heroines Witch Fever deliver captivating performance at intimate London show

Witch Fever at The Victoria, Dalston
(Image: © Sabrina Smith)

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As a one line 'napkin pitch' to a film producer 'Christian teenager discovers heavy metal, escapes Charismatic Church, forms doom-punk band, and supports reunited "suicide cult" legends in a sold-out stadium' might sound a tad far-fetched, a little too 'Hollywood'. 

But when Amy Walpole walked onstage at Stadium MK, Milton Keynes on the opening night of My Chemical Romance's three-night-stand at the 30,500-capacity  venue on May 19, that's roughly how the script of the Witch Fever story has played out to date.

Tonight, the quartet - Walpole, guitarist Alisha Yarwood, bassist Alex Thompson and drummer Annabelle Joyce - are in rather more intimate surroundings, playing The Victoria, Dalston as part of The Great Escape festival's First Fifty showcase - a launch event for TGE 2023 - but they sound like they're ready to take on the world.

Witch Fever, London, November 15, 2022

(Image credit: Luis Kramer)

Let's put this on the record up-front: Witch Fever are the best young band in British heavy music right now. This is the fourth time that this writer has seen the quartet in the past 8 months, and they're a more powerful and more captivating presence each time: stints on the road with some of the best live acts around - IDLES, Bob Vylan and Cancer Bats among them - would help any band up their game, but, more than that, this is a group increasingly comfortable in their own skin and increasingly confident in their ability to cut through any noise.

It helps too that Witch Fever have had the time and space to develop and grow without being thrust into the spotlight too early. Though their brilliant debut album Congregation was only released one month ago, it's the culmination of over five years work: excitingly, it's just the beginning, as is evidenced tonight by the quartet airing a song so new that Amy Walpole was still writing its lyrics in the van en route to East London tonight.

Everyone that comes to a gig to enjoy music should be safe and should be listened to and should be respected

Amy Walpole

As on Congregation, Witch Fever's set commences tonight with Blessed Be Thy, the name of a hymn Walpole used to sing in church every weekend, now reclaimed as an anthem of defiance against oppression, guilt and shame, the singer spitting 'You're dumb to think I would choose this.' By the fourth set of the night, the Savages-meets-Sinead O'Brien lurch of I Saw You Dancing, the singer, rather fabulously described by Twitter user and committed fan @badvibepedlar as a "satanic sprite", is stalking through the crowd like a Gallows-era Frank Carter, howling 'Oh my how you've grown', a creepy phrase employed by predatory men that'll be all too horribly familiar to teenage girls the world over.

Asked by the Underground website earlier this year to describe Witch Fever in a single sentence, Walpole offered, "Fierce, unapologetic, and perpetually pissed off". Following a mesmerising Slow Burn, a masterclass in dynamics and control from Yarwood, Thompson and Joyce, the vocalist, as she does at every gig, takes a moment to address the audience with a succinct summary of Witch Fever's core values operating in an industry which "treats people like shit that aren't white, CIS, able-bodied men."

"We don't stand for it," she says simply. "We think that everyone that comes to a gig to enjoy music should be safe and should be listened to and should be respected."

That message is driven home by Bully Boy, from last year's Reincarnate EP, written as a 'fuck you' song to sexist pricks, with the singer roaring 'Am I tits and legs and arse to you, like doll parts on display / Or a stupid brainless bimbo with nothing much to say?

In a set building in intensity, Congregation and the sludgy Reincarnate follow, the latter another highlight, as Walpole climbs atop the bar during the song's breakdown to sing 'After all that I've been through / After all that I've seen / You won't break me / You won't break me.'

But its set closer 12 which delivers the night's true gut-punch: a dark, harrowing, chilling tale of abuse - 'Don't need to be touched / For it to make an impression / Only 12 years old / My body sent him to heaven' - it's a distinctly uncomfortable listen, which is entirely the point: change is not made without inconvenience, as the theologian Richard Hooker once stated. It makes for a crushing conclusion to a thrilling gig.

Once more for the people at the back then: Witch Fever are the best young band in British heavy music right now. Do not sleep on this.

Witch Fever setlist

(Image credit: Prescription PR)
Paul Brannigan
Contributing Editor, Louder

A music writer since 1993, formerly Editor of Kerrang! and Planet Rock magazine (RIP), Paul Brannigan is a Contributing Editor to Louder. Having previously written books on Lemmy, Dave Grohl (the Sunday Times best-seller This Is A Call) and Metallica (Birth School Metallica Death, co-authored with Ian Winwood), his Eddie Van Halen biography (Eruption in the UK, Unchained in the US) emerged in 2021. He has written for Rolling Stone, Mojo and Q, hung out with Fugazi at Dischord House, flown on Ozzy Osbourne's private jet, played Angus Young's Gibson SG, and interviewed everyone from Aerosmith and Beastie Boys to Young Gods and ZZ Top. Brannigan lives in North London and supports The Arsenal.