Album review: Witch Fever – Congregation

Something wicked this way comes: Mancunian doom-punks Witch Fever unleash their full power on captivating debut…

Album review: Witch Fever – Congregation
Sam Law

There is a dark magic at the heart of Witch Fever. It flickered beneath the surface of last year’s excellent Reincarnate EP, leaking in fits and bursts around that record’s patchwork of acerbic riot grrrl attitude and lurching metallic heft. On debut full-length Congregation, however, it is in full flow. Tapping deep into both traumatic personal experience and their crackling interpersonal chemistry, these 13 tracks see the Manchester-based quartet stagger and spellbind, tackling all in front of them with unique creativity and righteous wrath.

The barbed, skeletal instrumentation and old-school sloganeering (‘Blessed be thy shame!’) of rough-edged opener Blessed Be Thy showcases the bold, purposeful imperfection of their updated approach to songwriting, but only hints at the quality to come. Beauty And Grace continues their mischievous corruption of traditionally religious language with a little more bluesy swagger. At The Core sees them begin to expand into denser atmospherics, with the squalling guitars and frantic drums capturing a sense of panicked urgency. Then the towering title-track arrives, incorporating biblical foreboding, personal anguish and suffocating riffs for one of 2022’s defining tracks.

It can hardly be a coincidence that Witch Fever’s landmark release is dropping 10 days before All Hallow’s Eve, but this outfit isn’t interested in occultist schlock. Their band name is an indictment of the phenomenon that saw spurious charges of witchcraft murderously weaponised against tens of thousands of women between the 16th and 18th centuries. The term ‘Congregation’ is a reference to how that insidious practice of using moral expectation as a method of control continues in religious communities today. The most powerful moments come when they’re raging against such injustice on the macro scale or reliving the darkness of more intimate experience.

Deadlights is a chaotic reflection on the mesmeric nature of pure evil, drawing it central metaphor from Stephen King’s It. Atmospheric stand-out I Saw You Dancing wraps its reckoning on rotten power-dynamics around a massive, jagged alt. metal soundscape, like Deftones hooked up to 10,000 volts. Bloodlust parries its woundedness into a luxuriant thirst for vengeance. It all comes to a head with frenzied closer 12, an extraordinarily raw confrontation of long-held personal hurt.

Rather than vulnerability, though, Congregation leaves off with an air of strength. On one level, from overwhelming darkness, they’ve wrenched a set of songs that are not only vitally relevant in the here and now, but which will stand the test of time. On another, it’s clear that Witch Fever’s journey is just beginning, and this is the platform from which they can blaze a blaze a blinding trail, smash that stubbornly patriarchal system, and keep living deliciously.

Verdict: 5/5

For fans of: L7, Deftones, Dream Nails

Congregation is released on October 21 via Music For Nations / Sony

Read this: Witch Fever: “We’re not chasing a movement that’s already happening… You want to be the ones not fitting in”

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