Widdershins by Gandalf's FistRelease date: November 21, 2022
Label: Nightkeeper Productions
Like a massive amount of a giant powder keg, ready to explode, it becomes this mind-blowing combination between prog, NWOBHM, Celtic-folk, fantasy-like structures, and going medieval on yo’ ass! I’m talking about Gandalf’s Fist. Mind you, I’m very new to the band’s music. And listening to their new album Widdershins, is bringing this imaginative movie in the forms of a metallic animated opera sung in all of its glory from start to finish. And folks, let me just say this, Widdershins is the album that we need!
Formed in a nightclub in 2005 in Maryport, Cumbria, England, when according to their biography, a mutual friend try to come up with a silly name for the band by impressing a geeky girl. The name Gandalf’s Fist was born between the collaboration of Dean Marsh and vocalist, Luke Severn.
Following in the footsteps of Pink Floyd, King Crimson, and Iron Maiden, with bits of Tolkien’s parallel universes, they have released eight studio albums so far from 2011 to 2021. With their new album released last year, I have to say that I was quite skeptical. But then after a few listens to Widdershins, it took me on a whole new path to appreciate what the band has accomplished.
From a two-piece, four-piece, and now as a sextet since 2017, Gandalf’s Fist also had a variety of guest musicians. Raging from Blaze Bayley, Arjen “Ayreon” Lucassen, The Fierce and the Dead’s Matt Stevens, Gryphon’s Dave Oberle, Nightwish’s Troy Donockley, and Lonely Robot’s John Mitchell to name a few. It’s not just the who’s who, but these artists who appeared on their albums, lend these guys a helping hand to bring their stories to life.
With the gentle acoustic turned sea shanty twist of ‘Sacrament’ that kicks the album off, you get a sense of returning back to the early 1980s when the NWOBHM movement was still kicking, and heading back to the Marquee, seeing the Paul Di’Anno-era of Iron Maiden in all of its glory. You have metallic riffs, skull-crunching leads, background vocals that have a ghost-like form, chanting ‘Hallelujah’, and crashing waves that hits you, one smash after another.
The 13-minute title-track is a moving ballad turned symphonic metallic opera. But it is honouring the late, great Tracy Hitchings from Landmarq as if Gandalf’s Fist are paying their respects to the front woman with Keri Farish singing to the skies, knowing that Tracy has their back, and keeping her spirit alive.
‘The Haruspex’ becomes a hypnotic middle-eastern arrangement that features a dooming approach between tubular bells, heavy organs, electric sitars, and Iommi-sque guitar structures. It’ll make you want to dig out your early Sabbath albums again when you listen to this track. Followed by the lyrical textures of Peter Hammill’s Silent Corner period with Bruce Dickinson, handling the production mixing.
You feel the character’s presence, you feel this evil goddess sitting in her throne, taking control of the entire city with an iron fist, knowing that she’ll be impossible to destroy, but not backing down without a fight. The midsection becomes a clash of the titans between keyboards and guitars, going at it each other, duelling with these intensive improve before Keri lands back down to Earth to hypnotise its listeners once more with a slithering approach.
But it’s ‘Witchmonger’ that takes you back to remember the Salem Witch trials back to 1692 to 1693. There’s some beautiful, haunting folk melodies with a Celtic vibe. The way that the song is handled, you can hear the chanting tribes of “Burn the Witch!”, elements of The Alan Parsons Project’s Turn of a Friendly Card-era, and the vocal lines between Marsh and Severin, gives listeners a chance on what we’ve learned from what happened during the time frame.
The closing 19-minute track ‘Cave’ brings everything to a standstill. Here, the band brought in all of the ingredients they need to cook in something terrifying from the kitchen sink. From Ewen’s bass that is taking us upwards to the holy mountain with some terrifying results between Marsh’s howling textures, and Everish terrifying campers by shitting their pants, letting them know to watch out for the shadow puppets.
Not only they will terrify campers in their dreams, but will haunt them in the years to come. It has some brutal honesty from what the band brought into this epic with some killer lyrical structures from BigElf’s Damon Fox. Then in the midsection, it becomes a twister between heavy lead sections, mellotron’s galore, acoustic folk frets going up and down like an escalator, back and forth. And nods to the Italian prog rock scene in the golden years in the ‘70s.
I love how Marsh transforms his guitar into a vicious, snarling, blood-thirsty beast, attacking its prey like no other! It’s like as George Carlin puts it, a wolverine who’s high on angel dust! Then it becomes a nightmarish lullaby brought to life as Dean helps Keri to unveil her cloak by bringing in more terror that awaits the cities, filled with decay, greed, and corruption, mixed in with some Van der Graaf approaches on the synthesisers.
An album that delivers justice, at its finest. And for Gandalf’s Fist, they picked up the pace on Widdershins by bringing in the goods, from beginning, middle, and to very end.