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Critical Solution - Barbara The Witch

Critical Solution
Barbara The Witch
by Daniel Stefanov at 10 June 2017, 8:23 AM

CRITICAL SOLUTION is a Norwegian Horror Thrash formation with a kink for story-rich conceptual albums based on medieval esoteric legends. Now, usually, when we think "Norway", "conceptual album", and "horror", and especially "corpse paint", we often think of black metal. CRITICAL SOLUTION however, since their strong 2013 debut "Evil Never Dies", are dead set on proving the world that Norway should be famous for its thrash as well. The band is highly productive, pumping out a third album in the span of four years. And it is very refreshing to see that the quality has not suffered. The album is also accompanied by a bonus CD with covers of great heavy metal classics, ranging from King Diamond to Uriah Heep.

The cover art is substantially improved, and is one of the finer works I have seen this year. There's everything about metal and horror in it - a burning witch, Satan, skulls, ghost skulls, a church, a pale moon over a nightmarish forest… It's an instant classic. The album opens on the introductory narration "Natas Fo Live", telling the story of a secluded northern village surrounded by an evil forest. It is cheesy as hell, but it wouldn't be fair to consider that a drawback, as this is a true local legend, the origin of all the made-up horror stories that made this concept sound cheesy in the first place. The narration is supplemented by well-established classic spooky piano and organ pieces that add to the haunting atmosphere. The feeling, however, is somewhat broken at the very end of the narration, with an out-of-place shout "welcome to the village", which transitions to the first actual song of the album, "The Village". It will forever remain a mystery for me why the band chose this particular arrangement of the album. Right before the slightly funny welcome message at the end of "Natas Fo Live", the narrator tells how "Only two people dared live near the woods -  Peter Crow, the priest of the Black Church… and Barbara Belladonna… Barbara The Witch!" - the narration there is very atmospheric and very powerful, and should have been immediately followed by the title track, "Barbara the Witch", which also starts in a similarly atmospheric manner and would have constituted a great and glorious opener for the album. However,

CRITICAL SOLUTION chose to force "The Village" in there, break the immersion of the narration with the ridiculous welcome message, and open on a straight up hard thrash song. Why? You worked so hard to build the spooky feeling in the intro, why break it to pieces with a cheap scream, followed by "burn the witch, she's a godforsaken bitch", only to try to build it up again in the title track? Anyway, that questionable decision aside, both "The Village" and "Barbara the Witch" are powerful and rich old-school thrash songs which showcase brilliantly what the band is all about - unrelenting all-out late 80's thrash. "Barbara the Witch" starts off with an improvisation on Edvard Grieg's "In the Hall of the Mountain King" and proceeds in a fast and rhythmic guitar-driven song, with chorus reminiscent of HELLOWEEN's "Gorgar".

It is followed by the instrumental intro of "Red Hooded Devils", which layers pleasant acoustic guitar over a haunting background. The contrast creates a rich atmosphere of obscured menace. The song itself is melodic yet hard, with simplistic verses and a powerful melodic chorus. The drumming is very strong and I wish it were made more prominent during mixing. The track calms down to a dreamy tempo towards the end. "Peter Crow", who the narration established as a primary figure, along with Mrs. Barbara "The Witch" Belladonna, is the topic of a decent METALLICA-esque song with a catchy chorus. The guitar during the chorus is a wink at CRADLE OF FILTH's "Lilith Immaculate"'s bridge.  "The Burning Pyre" is the finale of the first half of the album, symbolically ending on Barbara's burning. Like any good horror story, the good peoples of Natas Fo Live thought the hard times are behind them as the evil witch met her fiery fate in this modern sounding song that mixes several different approaches to quite a successful epic centerpiece for the album. The second half opens yet again on a narration, explaining the ill fate of those who suffer a resurrecting witch. And just like the first intro, this one ends weird, this time with a casual whistle, as if to deliberately make fun of anyone who takes horror stories seriously.

"The Headless Horseman" features some very pleasant guitarwork and aggressive sections. "Officer Green" is another decent hard thrasher with spooky undertones. "A Lady in White" is an instrumental with acoustic and heavy segments that sets the mood perfectly for the "Return of the Witch", which starts all guns blazing, heavy and beautiful. My favorite track on the record, it also appears to have a classical music influence, but I can't seem to recall which exactly at the moment. Unfortunately, the vocals sound tired and uninspired during the verses, which is a pity, as the song itself is top quality. The album closes on a narration telling the end of the story. Or does it? Well… that remains to be heard!

"Barbara the Witch" is a very pleasant album. Amidst the traditional thrash sound with retro flashbacks, there are sprinkles of classical metal bands and classical music influences, which further spice up the mix. Christer's vocals are good for the most part, only in a few places finding it difficult to show power at range. Story-wise the album is split in two - prior to Barbara's burning, and after her resurrection, however music-wise it all sounds the same. I expected the first part of the album to be harder, while the second is more scary and atmospheric, or vice-versa, but CRITICAL SOLUTION opted for an almost even spread, which is fine, of course. Most songs on the record show little inspiration in verses, however shine with strong and memorable choruses and solos. The album manages to successfully mix very hard thrash segments with powerful melodic and even acoustic ones, and the legend told through the songs further enhances their musical meaning. Overall a strong release, which shows the band is definitely not running out of steam, despite producing great volumes of material for the past four or five years.

I will not be reviewing the bonus covers, as I consider them a gift to the fans - the band covered a bunch of songs they love, and included them on the album, what's to say about it besides "thank you very much"!

Songwriting: 7
Originality: 5
Memorability: 7
Production: 8

3 Star Rating

1. Natas Fo Live
2. The Village
3. Barbara the Witch
4. Red Hooded Devils
5. Peter Crow
6. The Burning Pyre
7. End of the Beginning
8. The Headless Horsemen
9. Officer Green
10. A Lady in White
11. Return of the Witch
12. Into the Abyss
Bonus disc:
1. Locked up in Snow (King Diamond's Black Rose cover)
2. Let it Die (Ozzy Osbourne cover)
3. Killed by Death (Motörhead cover feat. Whitfield Crane/LaRocque)
4. Iron Man (Black Sabbath cover)
5. Speed King (Deep Purple cover)
6. Gypsy (Uriah Heep cover feat. Snowy Shaw)
Christer Slettebø - Vocals/Lead Guitar
Egil Mydland - Drums
Eimund Grøsfjell - Bass Guitar
Bjørnar Grøsfjell - Guitar
Record Label: Crime Records


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