Witch Fever: vital and inclusive ‘doom-punk’ for a world in chaos
Since forming in the dingy corners of Manchester’s alternative scene back in 2017, Witch Fever have become an unstoppable force within underground punk circles. Their 2021 debut EP ‘Reincarnate’ justified their place on ones-to-watch lists like the NME 100, while they’ve recently toured with the likes of My Chemical Romance, IDLES and Bob Vylan. Their next move? ‘Congregation’, their punchy and furious debut album that serves up a wholly refreshing potion of punk, goth and early Nirvana-style grunge.
“We definitely wanted for the album to push what a Witch Fever song could mean sonically,” bassist Alex Thompson explains to NME from her Manchester home about the band’s willingness to expand their sound. “We’ve always been good at writing something heavy and thrashy, but it’s been [at a consistent] pace. We couldn’t have a whole album that’s like that, so we tried to appreciate the power in space. Some of the heavier songs – like the title track – aren’t necessarily thrashy, but they’re still heavy in their own way. There’s a lot more movement in it.”
The album’s singles only solidify this statement. The forceful ‘Blessed Be Thy’ is an escalating three minutes of punk rock made especially for squaring up to strangers in a moshpit, whereas ‘I Saw You Dancing’ features a sleazy guitar riff that slowly inches its way towards something wicked, taunting the listener as it skulks on. Vocalist Amy Walpole twists, shrieks and howls her way through the album – depicting her experiences of trauma as someone raised in the Charismatic Church – reclaiming her voice as a tool that has previously been snatched away from her.
“The whole album, definitely, is about growing up in a church and then coming out of it, rebuilding what the fuck you are as a person after that experience,” Walpole explains. A Christian denomination, the Charismatic Church praises the Holy Spirit while putting emphasis on communal prayer and celebrating modern miracles. Walpole made the decision to leave the church when she was 16, and her parents followed two years later.
“It was more difficult for my parents, I think, in terms of losing faith,” she adds. “As adults, they made a conscious decision to find this faith and really put their whole lives into this church. Whereas I was born and that’s what I was taught: it wasn’t even a question. It was just, ‘God is real, that’s the end of it’. There was lots of different things that happened there – mostly quite small things, and then some quite significant things – that made me question the church and the way that it was run, which then in turn made me question God. I was like, ‘I don’t even think I really believe… or give a shit about this? Like, even if God is real – I don’t care.’”
The discovery of death metal and hardcore rock which helped Walpole break free from the trappings of her upbringing. “Charismatic churches often have live bands and the music is crafted to make you feel a swelling of emotions, like, ‘Oh my God! God is in the room with me!’ I just made this connection that it wasn’t actually God that was in the room… just the chord progression made me feel good. And then I was like, ‘Shit, I’m listening to Bring Me The Horizon and Slipknot on the way to church, and I feel the same!’”
Walpole doesn’t hesitate in showing vulnerability: while the album ultimately celebrates achieving freedom from those who harm you, it simultaneously inspects the conflicting feelings that emerge from traumatic experiences.“Losing your faith – not only in God, but also in the people you’ve grown up around – is a really difficult thing,” she explains.
“You really need to rebuild your whole reason for living. I do find myself liberated from [the church] now: I’m a completely different person, I’m completely separate from it. But when you grow up, and patriarchal values are essentially indoctrinated in your brain, it’s very hard as a woman to not feel shame for not sticking to those values. It’s hard to let go of the unconscious shame that has been built in you. Feeling shame for just being a woman, for your body, even down to sex… that’s still something I’m dealing with; shame in having a body that’s sexual. My whole life, I’ve been told that’s dirty and wrong. There’s joy in the liberation, but it’s a struggle, too.”
Looking your own personal horror in the eyes and spitting in its face is at the heart of what Witch Fever do, but that involves embracing your more sensitive side, too – it’s not just pure rage. Take ‘Slow Burn’, which Thompson jokingly refers to as “our ballad”. It’s miles away from the preceding track ‘Bloodlust’, in which Walpole snarls: “You wanna feel my shame?!” Instead, she opts for the more fragile “I’m overwhelmed, because it sets you free…” before describing the hopelessness she feels whenever she’s alone. There’s still a sense of urgency and strength here – it wouldn’t be a Witch Fever song without that – but Walpole refuses to evade any emotion that arises. She faces her oppressors head on, which is why she twists Biblical language for her own gain. “It’s empowering to reclaim [those words]. It gives me enjoyment, it gives me power,” she explains.
Where better to demonstrate that power than the highly anticipated, sold out stadium comeback tour of one of the most influential cult bands of the 2000s? Supporting My Chemical Romance, Thomson says, was “the best day ever.”
“We found out about it a couple days beforehand. It was super last minute – I was at work when I got the message. I had to lock myself in the disabled toilet and just run laps for a bit. I was the best waitress that had ever been that day!,” Thomson continues. “But yeah, it was super cool. All of us felt weirdly relaxed on stage. I felt super chill to be honest. I want more of [those shows]!”
Britpop outcasts Placebo were also on the bill – and they happen to be one of Thompson’s favourite bands. “That was insane. The bassist walked past after we played and was like, ‘Nice set!’ and I couldn’t even think of anything to say, I just froze like, ‘Oh my God!’”
While that went down as one of the band’s favourite performances, not all of their live experiences have been as gratifying. In recent shows, Thompson admits they felt like they were “in a glorified band of circus freaks” – a group of young women often trying to convince a crowd of older men to take them seriously. Catcalling and heckling is, frustratingly, still taking place at Witch Fever shows – but that just inspires the band to play harder, faster, angrier.
Thompson adds: “Someone shouted at Amy once, ‘Music, not politics!’, but if you’re expressing yourself and your identity through your creativity and your someone that faces some level of oppression, it’s impossible not to discuss politics. Also, we’re a punk band! That’s the core of it!”
“Empowerment is always going to be at the core of anything we do, because that’s why we do this,” she continues. “We wanna show people – especially women and gender non-conforming people – that you can express yourself in the way you’ve been told your whole life you shouldn’t – and there’s a power and positivity to doing that.”
Witch Fever’s debut album ‘Congregation’ is out now
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