Album Review – Burning Witches / Dance with the Devil (2020)

The witches are back to mesmerize us all and put us to dance with them forever and ever to the sound of their incendiary Heavy Metal.

Swiss Heavy/Power Metal outfit Burning Witches is by far one of the hottest exports from the Alpine Republic since the release of their self-titled debut album in 2017, receiving a very positive feedback from fans and critics from all over the world. Formed in 2015 in Brugg, a Swiss municipality and a town in the canton of Aargau, the band currently comprised of Dutch newcomer Laura Guldemond on vocals (replacing the band’s original singer Seraina Telli in 2019), Romana Kalkuhl and Sonia Nusselder on the guitars, Jeanine Grob on bass and Lala Frischknecht on drums is ready to show the world everything they got once again with their third full-length installment Dance with the Devil, the follow-up to their highly acclaimed sophomore album Hexenhammer, released in 2018, and a lesson in Heavy Metal by five talented ladies who have always loved and breathed heavy music that will certainly inspire you to raise your horns and bang your head like there’s no tomorrow.

An eerie, mesmerizing intro titled The Incantation captivates our senses for the infernal Lucid Nightmare, with Romana and Sonia blasting sheer adrenaline through their sick riffage. Put differently, it’s classic Heavy Metal from the 80’s with Laura kicking some serious ass with her witch-like, soaring vocals, setting the bar really high for the rest of the album. Then it’s time to dance with our beloved Swiss witches in the title-track Dance with the Devil, a Hard Rock extravaganza led by Lala’s spot-on beats and Laura’s stunning vocals while the band’s stringed trio fills every single space in the air with adrenaline and electricity; followed by Wings of Steel, originally released in their 2019 EP Wings of Steel, a pure Heavy Metal tune showcasing the band’s dexterity and passion for what they do, all spiced up by Romana’s and Sonia’s classy guitar solos.

And Laura keeps blasting her high-pitched, piercing vocal lines in Six Feet Underground, another solid tune where Jeanine and Lala make the earth tremble with their low-tuned, metallic weapons, whereas in Black Magic we’re treated to an introspective, melancholic intro where Laura beautifully declaims the song’s words, evolving into a stunning ballad presenting passionate guitar solos and an ethereal atmosphere, showing a more delicate side of the band. Less visceral than the previous songs but still heavy-as-hell, Sea of Lies is a good composition bringing to our ears a great performance by Lala on drums, providing her bandmates a solid base for them to effectively slash their strings, while a Judas Priest-inspired riff kick off the metallic anthem The Sisters of Fate, perfect for banging your head nonstop with the girls or for hitting the road with your loved ones. This is the epitome of the band’s killer Heavy Metal with a Rock N’ Roll twist, with their guitar riffs and solos penetrating deep inside our minds.

Necronomicon is one of the darkest and most devilish of all songs, with Laura impersonating a true witch with her raspy, demonic vocals while Jeanine doesn’t stop hammering her bass strings, also presenting more of the band’s razor-edged riffs and solos, and bringing forward Helloween-inspired riffs blended with the classic Hard Rock by bands like Europe and Survivor we have The Final Fight, another lesson in charisma and vocal potency by Laura, therefore highly recommended for singing along with the band. Then taking their heaviness to a new level the quintet blasts the battle anthem Threefold Return, presenting an old school shredding infused with rumbling bass punches and rhythmic drums which will please all fans of classic Heavy and Power Metal without a shadow of a doubt, and lastly we have their cover version for Manowar’s classic Battle Hymn, featuring guest guitarist Ross the Boss (Manowar, Ross the Boss) and guest bassist Mike LePond (Symphony X, Ross the Boss). This is a sensational rendition by the witches with a welcome feminine touch, and still as strong and insurgent as the original version (which you can take a listen at HERE).

If you consider yourself a true metalhead and you think you have what it takes to face the stunning metal witches from Switzerland, go check what they’re up to on Facebook and on Instagram, and of course go grab your copy of the breathtaking Dance with the Devil (also available for a full listen on Spotify) from the Nuclear Blast webstore in different formats by clicking HERE or HERE. Hence, after putting your hands on such entertaining album of heavy music, you’ll quickly realize the unrelenting Burning Witches have taken over your mind for good, inspiring you to dance with them forever and ever to the sound of their undisputed Heavy Metal.

Best moments of the album: Lucid Nightmare, Dance with the Devil, The Sisters of Fate and The Final Fight.

Worst moments of the album: Sea of Lies.

Released in 2020 Nuclear Blast

Track listing
1. The Incantation 0:57
2. Lucid Nightmare 4:50
3. Dance with the Devil 4:26
4. Wings of Steel 4:29
5. Six Feet Underground 4:31
6. Black Magic 5:06
7. Sea of Lies 4:56
8. The Sisters of Fate 3:31
9. Necronomicon 4:12
10. The Final Fight 4:35
11. Threefold Return 3:56
12. Battle Hymn (Manowar cover) 6:55

Band members
Laura Guldemond – vocals
Romana Kalkuhl – guitars
Sonia Nusselder – guitars
Jeanine Grob – bass
Lala Frischknecht – drums

Guest musicians
Ross the Boss – guitars on “Battle Hymn”
Mike LePond – bass on “Battle Hymn”

Metal Chick of the Month – Romana Kalkuhl

I was born to burn! Maiden of steel!

After a short and sweet break, The Headbanging Moose returns in full force with our metal chick of the month of July, elevating the temperature in the always hot summer in the Northern Hemisphere. If you’re a diehard fan of old school Heavy and Power Metal the likes of Warlock, Judas Priest, Accept, Manowar and Grave Digger, I’m quite sure you already know our metal lady, but in case you’re still not familiar with her refined technique and deep passion for heavy music here’s a good chance for you to go after the music from her ass-kicking bands Burning Witches and Atlas & Axis. Hailing from the metallic lands of the charming and beautiful Switzerland, here comes the talented Swiss guitarist Romana Kalkuhl, ready to take the world of heavy music by storm armed with her inseparable stringed axe for our total delight.

Born in 1990 in Switzerland, Romana, whose full name is Romana Eskić-Kalkuhl (as she’s married to Swiss guitarist Damir Eskić, from the bands Destruction and Gomorra), comes from a family of musicians who have always supported her decision to become a professional guitar player. For instance, her father Meinolf Kalkuhl is an opera singer in Zurich, Switzerland, while her mother is a piano teacher. All that support resulted in the formation of her first professional band in 2009 while she was still in university. That band is Aargau-based Heavy Metal act Atlas & Axis, with whom Romana has already recorded two full-length albums, those being March of the Night, in 2011, and Confrontation, in 2014, not to mention all concerts the band has already played live. You can enjoy the Iced Earth-inspired sound of Atlas & Axis and Romana’s incendiary shredding on YouTube by listening to songs like Power and Might, Elements, To Violence and These Words, among many others, as well as the song Winter played live at the Dynamo in Zurich in 2014. Unfortunately, due to her current commitment to Burning Witches, our blonde warrior doesn’t have the necessary time to focus on Atlas & Axis at the moment, which means the band is on hold until further notice.

It was in the spring of 2015 in the city of Brugg, a municipality in the Swiss canton of Aargau, when Romana founded Heavy/Power Metal unity Burning Witches, following her personal dream of performing on stage with an all-female metal band. Earlier that year she started looking for talented women for her new project, with her longtime friend, bassist Jeanine Grob, becoming the band’s first official member. Then during a party at a festival she met vocalist Seraina Telli, from bands like Dead Venus, Rizon and Surrilium, starting a very healthy and productive partnership between them, with Seraina’s ideas and experience from her studies at the Music Academy and her bands being exactly what Romana wanted for Burning Witches. Having the one and only Schmier, vocalist and bassist for German Thrash Metal institution Destruction, as their producer and consultant (and a personal friend of Romana, by the way), and with drummer Lala Frischknecht and guitarist Alea Wyss completing the lineup after an intensive search and several auditions, Romana and her Burning Witches were finally ready to crush with their classic metal music.

Since the band’s inception, Romana and the girls have already released two full-length albums (their self-titled debut album in 2017, and Hexenhammer in 2018), one four-track live album named Burning Alive, recorded on September 30, 2017 at Z7 in Pratteln, Switzerland, and now in 2019 they re-released Burning Witches / Burning Alive as a combo under Nuclear Blast. If you want to feel the power of their metal sword, simply go to Spotify or to YouTube and enjoy some flammable Heavy Metal anthems such as Wings Of Steel, Black Widow, and Executed, or many other live footage from Romana and the girls slaying everything and everyone that crosses their path like their flammable performance at Sweden Rock Festival in 2019; their concert in 2018 in Mannheim, a city in southwest Germany; and their powerful pocket show at Salzhaus Brugg in 2018.

Sadly for all fans of the band, lead singer Seraina Telli left the band earlier this year for personal reasons, being replaced by Dutch vocalist Laura Guldemond, from bands like Shadowrise and Synergy Protocol, and of course Romana had a few words to say about that change to her band. “This is, of course, a very sad moment for all of us. We have been very close for the last years and have reached a lot together. With great sadness we have to accept that Seriana wants to move on and we wish her the best of luck for that! Your time with the Witches will never be forgotten! For us as a band, it is important now to look into the new challenges and the new record — the show must go on!”, complementing her thoughts by saying that “we are super thrilled that we have found Laura so quick over our Dutch connection Sonia. We know it is impossible to replace a great voice in exact the same way; that is why Laura is the perfect choice for us. She will bring in her own strength and personality into the Witches! We will not change the identity of the band; we will continue playing the music we love! Laura is an experienced and crisp vocalist with a big range and a crazy enough personality to be one of us! Please give her a warm welcome — she has already won many metalhearts at our first show with her at the Sweden Rock Festival! We will continue to spread the magic of the witches — thanks for all the support over the years!”

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Regarding the fact that the band has become more international with the addition of Laura to their lineup, the second Dutchwoman in the band, Romana said that the collaboration between them is quite dynamic, with the Dutch girls flying to Switzerland over the weekend for rehearsals and concerts, while the rest of the time everyone practices their music from home. She also mentioned in one of her interviews that her main goal when she started Burning Witches was to have fun with the band, not because of success itself, complementing by saying that if one day that pleasure of playing with Burning Witches is over, then the band will also be over. In addition, when asked about how she keeps the band as independent and feminine as possible even with the influences of Damir and Schmier, she said that their help is based on their experience, something the girls from Burning Witches don’t have enough yet, and that Damir’s support was crucial to make everything happen, always keeping in mind the band was going to be (and will always be) an all-female metal band.

Romana’s list of idols and influences can easily be felt in the music by Burning Witches, with her favorite styles ranging from Heavy, Thrash, Death and Black Metal to Hard Rock and even Progressive Rock. According to Romana herself, the bands that have influenced her the most (and the entire band, of course) are Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Manowar, Saxon, Accept, Dio and several other renowned acts from the NWOBHM. Also, in regards to her equipment, Romana has always played Charvel and Jackson USA guitars, since the beginning, saying those are the best ones in her opinion, and although she’s endorsed also by Fender (apart from Charvel and Jackson, of course) she doesn’t use it when playing live just because she has so many instruments of the other two manufacturers. And before I forget, did you know she also plays classical guitar? Our dauntless metalhead is not only a shredder, but as you can see she’s also a woman who adds a touch of finesse to her guitar lines.

When questioned about the differences and disparities between men and women not only in Heavy Metal, but in music in general, Romana said that it might look easier to be an all-female group at first, attracting a lot of attention form the media and the fans (especially when all band members are beautiful like the ladies from Burning Witches), but it only gets harder and harder as time goes by due to the systemic sexism found everywhere, complementing by saying that many people will see them as just “pretty faces” and think that it’s a man who’s doing all the job in the background. Romana also said that one of the very positive effects of her all-female band is serving as the inspiration for other women to attend their concerts and start their lives in metal, which in my opinion is indeed an amazing change to a music genre mostly dominated by men, whereas the more sexist metal fans ended up reacting very negatively to their music. Who on earth wouldn’t enjoy watching five talented women kicking some serious ass on stage, playing old school metal music? You have to be really stupid, and not just sexist, to think the Burning Witches are not a great metal band.

Anyway, as aforementioned, Romana is married to Damir Eskić, guitarist for Destruction and Gomorra (which was previously called Gonoreas), and it was actually during a Gonoreas’ concert that the couple met, with Damir having a huge influence on Romana’s playing style as he was the one who taught her a lot about the instrument (albeit she already knew how to play it from her school years). On a side note, Romana said she was impressed by Miriam Zehnder, who played the rhythm guitar at Gonoreas at that time, also saying her stage presence fascinated her a lot, showing how connected Burning Witches and Gomorra are not only because of Romana and Damir. In addition to that, Romana said her relationship with Damir is quite healthy, dynamic and fun, with Damir being for example the music collector while she’s more interested in clothes, and so on. Damir considers himself the coach, the moral preacher and the main supporter of the Burning Witches, keeping the girls happy and motivating them even in difficult situations, all confirmed by Romana who also said Damir also makes sure he gives them a motivating speech before every concert, getting them ready to rock on stage.

Both Romana and Damir seem to be extremely busy professionals, and when asked about how they manage all their duties and their relationship, including their music lessons as both are teachers at different music schools (Romana works at three different schools while Damir works at two schools and at the conservatory in Winterthur), she said although they don’t actually have time for anything else, they still manage to have a normal life as a couple, as all those things have already become a part of their everyday life. Furthermore, the couple might not have real rings, but the dates tattooed on their fingers already say it all, showing a lot of mutual respect and admiration between them, with Romana saying that although they’ve already been together for over a decade seeing each other pretty much daily, they still miss each other when they’re on tour in different parts of the world, mentioning for example how difficult it was during the two week Damir was away with Destruction this year. She wasn’t really complaining about that because she understands how hard it is to be part of a band that tours a lot and how lucky both are for being in successful bands, but let’s face it, it’s indeed tough to be away from your loved one no matter what, even if it’s in the name of our good old Heavy Metal.

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