'Burn the Witch' is a haunting, yet beautiful return from Radiohead

Manas Mitul

May,04 2016 17:46 10 IST

It has been a busy week for the world. Besides coping with the fact that Donald Trump will be the Republican nominee in the US presidential elections (and that he might go on to become the leader of the free world), people have had a lot on their plates. The world's favourite bastard Jon Snow is back, and Leicester City, charting territory more fantastical than Game of Thrones, became Premier League champions.

While the noise of a very likely resurrection and an equally unlikely champion engulfed the world wide web, in an another quiet corner Radiohead, one of world's most enigmatic bands, slowly started to fade away. The Oxford-based genre-bending band started deleting their internet presence. Their Facebook, Twitter and website went white as a ghost, and then the murmurs began of a ninth LP.

Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke. Getty

Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke. Getty

On Tuesday, after putting out a couple of teasers on Instagram, Radiohead finally broke their social media silence and sprang their new song, 'Burn the Witch', on their fans via Facebook.

The song, accompanied with a stop-animation video, seems to be the first track from the upcoming album, and it is a departure from Radiohead's work in the last decade, but no less beautiful and haunting. 'Burn the Witch', from the very first listen, is much more accessible than any other Radiohead song for some time and it'll be an easy listen for people who are not into Radiohead. There isn't much use of electronics, and the song opens and stays with a euphoric and frenzied two-chord structure accompanied with strings.

After two bars of the rousing intro, the sawtooth kicks in and Radiohead fans feel a bit more at home. Thom Yorke's vocals join in and mid way through the first verse, it sounds like something Radiohead have rarely sounded like — happy.

"Stay in the shadows/cheer at the gallows/this is a round up/this is a low flying panic attack," Yorke sings in the opening verse. His voice is urgent, yet cheery.

Yorke's trademark falsetto then takes over in the chorus. "Burn the witch/we know where you live," he glides over resounding percussions and Psycho-esque keys, only much more urgent, and then a melancholy string section flows in with a typical-Radiohead electronic drum track backing it up. It then dawns on you, it isn't happy at all. He was only telling you what to do to live in this world in the first verse.

Just as the title suggest, the lyrics focus on witch-hunting. But Yorke isn't singing of the dark practice belonging to the middle ages. He is singing a song for today. 'Burn the Witch', the more you listen, sounds like an elegy for today's modern society. "Loose talk around tables/abandon all reason/avoid all eye contact/do not react/shoot the messengers," sounds much like the frenzied intolerance of the mob-like society we live in.

And the video, a cross between Trumpton, a 1960s British stop-motion children's television series, and The Wicker Man, a 1973 British horror film, lends to that interpretation. It closely follows the plot of The Wicker Man, focussing on the arrival of a police officer in a cultist and fanatic little village, where he is burnt by the village mob in a ritualistic sacrifice towards the end.

The dark subject matter of the song and largely euphoric music driving it seem like unlikely companions, but it isn't something Radiohead haven't done before. The song is more in key with Radiohead's 2003 record, Hail to the Thief; contemporary, political, and equally accessible. And if 'Burn the Witch' indeed turns out to be the first song off the new, yet-to-be-revealed album, then there are more similarities. The first song off Hail to the Thief, 2+2=5, was also a more modern-rock orientated song and spoke of how the State coerces our thoughts.

'Burn the Witch' is haunting and frightening, but no less beautiful. It is more like a Radiohead song than it may initially sound. And if it is a sign of things to come, the new album will be a Radiohead return that we all wanted, and in some ways needed too.

Listen to 'Burn The Witch' below: