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I am not one to throw perfect scores around, instead giving them only to albums that I think that truly deserve them. Many times when an album really appeals to me, I ponder for some time if they are really perfect or just close. Countless times I deemed an album perfect, only to slowly realize its flaws. And even if an album is completely devoid of flaws, sometimes it simply isn’t transcendental enough to receive a full score. At the same time, I am not exactly the biggest fan of black metal. Sure, there are many bands and albums that I rate highly, but for the most part I always find flaws in black metal. Be it the repetition, be the extremely bad production or simply the lack of something else, something that stands out. Exceptions can be made on rare occasions, but only at first, since no black metal album had ever captivated me enough to make me listen to it over and over again. And then came Witchcraft. I found myself reading Kruel’s interesting review for another album, which led me to see if there were any other albums he rated higher than that one. I found none, but instead I found one that was rated almost as highly. A release by an obscure symphonic black metal band that had disbanded years ago, and had the legendary Pest as vocalist. As I read further, I got interested and decided to download the album. On my first listen, I was intrigued by the amount of stuff going on simultaneously. None of the instruments seemed to play coherently, since each one played something different. The guitars were tremolo picked, yet very melodious and harmonically rich. The drumming was varied, some times blast beats, some times fills, but never random bashing. A keyboard was present, playing beautiful melodies that did not seem to fit the music at all. Never overused, but always present. The bass was, surprisingly, audible. And the vocals were filled with hate. Yet none of these elements seemed to fit together, sounding almost contradictory. Still I felt there was something about this album that attracted me, though I failed to see what.
On repeated listens, I started to notice facets of the music that were previously ignored, as if they had simply appeared from nowhere. Slowly, all the aspects started to make sense, beginning to sound coherent and even logical. Layers of harmonies and melodies started to appear, one at each listen, in a way that the album never failed to sound fresh. All of this gave the album a complex, almost progressive feel. Look at the song structures, for example. As Kruel pointed out, there is little repetition, if there is any at all. On the first proper song, after the beautiful introduction titled Prelude Funebre, no riff or section is repeated. This gives way for new riffs to appear, and there are enough riffs here to surpass most thrash metal albums, and rival the best. Despite being noticeably different, each riff has similarities, so the songs sound complete, and not just a collection of tremolo picked riffs. There are a couple of non-tremolo riffs on some songs, adding to the variety and freshness of the album. Since this album is strong on the counterpoint element, it is not unusual for each guitar to be playing a different riff, but instead of sounding confusing, each riff complements the other. The guitar playing is, as I said before, very melodic and downright beautiful. With the stunning keyboard playing yet another different melody, the whole album is unbelievably pleasant. The varied drumming serves the purpose of adding rhythm and flow to the album, just like the bass, both skillfully played. All of this beautiful music has a very medieval feel, and is perfectly complemented by the insane vocals of Pest.
I like to think of Pest as the Gollum of black metal. There is an astonishing quantity of pure, unadulterated hate in his vocals, yet at the same time you can feel the sorrow and regret in his voice, like some sort of pitiful creature, mistreated and abandoned by the world, a hermit filled with rage for the world that discarded him, yet sad and miserable. Not many, if any, black metal vocalists are capable of such a comprehensive performance, and I personally believe this to be the highlight of his career so far. Lyrically the album does not stand out, as witchcraft and satanism are overused themes. However, with Pest vocals and the music united, this album faultlessly captures the feeling of being in a dark, misty forest at night, witnessing the witches sabbath. The atmosphere conjured by the songs is that of mysterious sorceress and their cauldrons, preparing long forgotten magick. In this aspect, Witchcraft is similar to Fates Warning masterpiece Awaken the Guardian, although in a more aggressive approach. Occasionally there are some chanted vocals, once again adding some variety and more dimensions to the vocals. As dazzling as his vocals may be, he does not, at any moment, overshadow the brilliant music. Witchcraft has the perfect production for black metal. Every instrument is perfectly audible, while still maintaining a raw feeling.
Every song on the album is marvelous and absolutely delicious to listen to, but there are some highlights here, like Carnal Lust, with its killer intro and ferocious riffs, From Times in Kingdoms… and its melodious riffage, and Veils of Wintersorrow, absolute highlight of the album, with its twisting tunes and emotions. When it comes to black metal, it hardly gets better than this. Better yet, it doesn’t gets better than this. I have not listened to every black metal album, and probably never will, but still I highly doubt that I ever will find anything in this genre that matches Witchcraft in sheer perfection. Some albums, including Obtained Enslavement’s next magnum opus, Soulblight, may come close, but none will ever reach the transcendental level achieved by this one. It is that good. Anyone that likes black metal should listen to this album. The neo-classical and melodious nature may even appeal to people that doesn’t usually listen to black metal. It is rare to find this album for sale, so if you do, buy it. Believe me, it is worth the price, whatever it may be. Not only an underrated black metal classic, but a marvellous, malevolent and majestic masterpiece too.