Witch’s Hat Mastery of the Steel

[Emergency Umbrella; 2007]

Styles: fantasy rock, LARP rock
Others: Tenacious D, Dragonforce, Iron Maiden

I like the combination of fantasy and rock as much as the next guy...ok, maybe not as much as him...but I do have a soft spot for bands who attempt to achieve an epic sweep thematically and lyrically. However, Witch's Hat have proven to me that this soft spot is not without aesthetic parameters that need to be met. Even the cheesiest aspects of my taste have expectations and limits, and for fantasy rock, Mastery of the Steel serves to highlight what those are.

Exhibit #1: Iron Maiden. As much as I love them, I am one of the guiltiest parties when it comes to lambasting their pomposity, yet what keeps these criticisms from curtailing even my own enjoyment of the band is that they can fucking shred. The tight guitar harmonies, the propulsive rhythms, and, of course, the operatic voice of Bruce Dickinson make the epic scope almost necessary. Witch's Hat give us similar material served up with a relatively tinny guitar, competent rhythm, and a Jello Biafra-esque lead vocal. No hints of British metal here. This leads us to...

Exhibit #2: Tenacious D. In comparing with Maiden, am I taking the Hat too seriously? Perhaps. Rather, should I not compare them with the ironic posturing of Tenacious D? Jack Black and Kyle Gass, while no doubt talented, are not founts of technical prowess. However, their approach is so much more over-the-top (in a Stallonian sense) than Witch's Hat's, even with less instrumentation at their disposal. This ultimately makes a wider audience available to "get the joke" with Black and Gass. In comparison, Witch's Hat seem much more like the in-joke house band at a Dungeons & Dragons convention. Moreover, even pitched as broadly as they are, the D are wearing pretty thin. (Did anyone else see Pick of Destiny? Don't bother.)

Exhibit #3: Dragonforce. These guys seem to be a nice middle ground between Maiden and D. Both feats of metal wizardry and a knowing wink to the overblown quality of their concept. While not everybody's cup o' tea, they have their share of fans. Witch's Hat attempt to take the fantasy rock thing more into indie territory. The songs are fairly typical rock songs with very little bite and, despite the lyrical fancy, very little quirk. The vocals, though often the most spirited element of the songs, tend to go flat and even seem to lose enthusiasm in some of the choruses (see "Huzzah" in particular).

These guys seem well-intentioned, but unfortunately, good charisma only gets you so far.

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