"Before the Winter"

By Dr. Abner Mality

The occult rock revival that was a big deal a few years back is already belly up and the whole 70's retro rock shtick seems poised to join it. Thanks, GRETA VAN FLEET. However, that doesn't mean there's still not a worthy band or two in this subgenre to explore. That brings us to Italy's WITCHWOOD, who sound about as authentic as you can get when it comes to recreating the early 70's vibe. Think of a cross between old URIAH HEEP and JETHRO TULL(complete with flute) and you have an idea of what WITCHWOOD's trying to do.

The first three cuts here, "Anthem For A Child", "A Taste of Winter" and "Feelin'" are all strong, energetic rockers with wailing guitars, Hammond B-3 organ sounds and the TULL-like flute work of Sam Tesori. Throughout the album, Sam's flute is very deftly and cleverly integrated with the really sounds like it belongs and isn't something that's shoehorned into WITCHWOOD's sound. Another secret weapon for this band is vocalist Ricky Dal Pane, who has an amazingly rich and evocative voice with zero accent. I mean, this cat could have easily sung for HEEP or DEEP PURPLE back in the day.

The music is usually riffy rock but does get pretty mellow on occasions and finds strange tangents. "Hesperus" and "Slow Colors of Shade" are both long tracks with a real proggy feeling. The latter tune features strident female vocals of an operatic nature as well as what sounds like a theremin. Harmonica and a more bluesy thrust make "Crazy Little Lover" sound a lot like GRAND FUNK RAILROAD. To be honest, there's too much soft stuff here for me to be on board 100%, with "A Crimson Moon" and "Nasrid" being pretty much hippy prog ballads. Yet even those are well played and Ricky's voice is just as strong on these tracks.

There's a strong feeling of authenticity to this project that makes work, even in the less rock oriented moments. That makes "Before the Winter" one of the few retro-rock bands out there I can get behind.