|The four guys seated around the SEVEN WITCHES card table have been dealt their share of bad hands, yet repeatedly come up winners in the high stakes gamble that is the music business, playing the longest of longshots, heavy metal. Frost has assembled a stellar group of veterans. Newest member, James Rivera, cut his versatile teeth with underrated 80s metallers, Helstar, before joining Destiny's End, and then helped long running thrashers, Flotsam & Jetsam on their 2001 US tour. Joey Vera is renown for his work in Armored Saint, but has also been a driving force in Engine and Fates Warning. Brain Craig was recruited by WITCHES, through Rivera's recommendation, as the two were in Destiny's End together.
Since the release of their Sanctuary debut, Xiled To Infinity And One, the band has been on a rollercoaster. In 2002, they were simply thrilled to finally be touring Europe, but Frost soon found himself fronting the band for a few shows. Underway once more, musical difference reared its head, ultimately leading to another line-up change. Unsure about who to pick, Rivera, an 11th hour surprise at last year's Classic Metalfest, virtually guaranteed himself the slot by learning the entire set in a matter of hours and delivering a thrilling audition, in front of a live audience! Band solidified, they sat down to write songs for what became PASSAGE TO THE OTHER SIDE. Fate cruelly stepped in once more, cancer claiming the guitarist's brother just a day before the band was to start recording at Mix-O-Lydian studio. Struggling with his loss, Frost claims the situation brought the band together, as friends. "It was a really rough year for me. The guys were in NJ, ready to start recording, when my brother passed. They were like, 'If you want us to go home, we'll understand.' They even came to the wake and funeral. It was really what I needed, at the time. Recording helped take my mind off it. There were other names we'd thrown around for the album, but the loss of my brother brought out a real emotional side of me. A few nights after he passed away, I woke up in the middle of the night and wrote all the lyrics to the title track, which is the epic on this record. I'd been working on it for months, with limited success. Once the rest of the band read the lyrics and heard the song, they said, 'You have to name the record that. That song shows the emotion that went into this record."
Unlike its predecessor, PASSAGE TO THE OTHER SIDE has a bold, modern sound, without forsaking the tradition of the band or the collective history of its members. "On the last record, we had 'Warmth Of Winter,' which was a little more modern sounding," corrects Frost. "We try to put today's vibe in there. We like to drop tune, but we don't do it in a way where there are no solos. We didn't sit there and say, 'OK, we have to write two songs for America, two songs for Europe and two songs for Japan.' Originally, 'Betrayed' was going to be the title track, but as time goes on, things change. 'Nature's Wrath' is a little more in-your-face. Joey wrote that. We had the first half of the song, sent it to me and I finished it. It's hard to say how things get done. We never know what's going to happen. This record has a little bit of everything. People might think we did it on purpose, but it just flowed together."
Frost attributes the diversity to "four different guys, with four different mindsets. This was a joint effort. We delivered a strong record last year, but since then, we lost our singer and bass player. The label was so good to us, we wanted to give back, by making an album that's mind blowing. We accomplished more than we anticipated." While all were involved in the creative process, Vera took the lead in making the final product sound so good. "He and I co-produced it," offers the guitarist, "but he mixed it. Joey and the rest of the guys have made this band as close knit as it's ever been, which is strange, since we live so far away from each other. Joey brought a lot to the table. He's a great songwriter and musician, but he brings his years of being in the business, his know-how. He's like a twin brother, another person to bounce ideas off. Now, I don't do anything in this band without talking to the other guys. It's not my band, it's ours."
In addition to the standout, title cut, which closes PASSAGE TO THE OTHER SIDE, listeners will be drawn to the revved up cover version of 'Wasted' off Def Leppard's debut. "Seven Witches has always done a cover song, here or there. Growing up, that was one of the first songs I played, in my grammar school. People really reacted positively to 'See You In Hell' (Grim Reaper cover on last record). I've always loved that song, from a Def Leppard album that kinda got put on the shelf. I wanted to sing on this record, so I kind of took over for Joe Comeau (Annihilator vocalist who guested on 'See You In Hell'). James and I did a duet on it."
'Last Horizon' showcases yet another side of SEVEN WITCHES. "Being in Metalium and Savatage, it rubbed off on me," he admits. "Hate to say it, but 'Last Horizon,' kinda sums up the last days with my brother too. A lot of these songs have to do with dying, which sucks. There's not one song on this record that talks about meeting a girl and having fun. It's a very serious record. There's no tongue-in-cheek on this record. 'Apocalyptic Dreams', 'Fever In The City', there's nothing like, 'Hey, that's a good time 80s pop song.' James did a fantastic job. It's a good record to sit back and read the lyrics."
In these tough times, when people think their situation is dire, comparison to the death of a family member or loved one can put things in perspective. Take a trip, through PASSAGE TO THE OTHER SIDE. Live, learn and yes, enjoy!"