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Swedish psychedelic doomsters Witchcraft return to the scene with their first release since 2007, the aptly named "Legend”. Aptly named because Witchcraft has amassed a devout following over the past decade, becoming somewhat legendary themselves, releasing album after album of the highest quality doom metal with a psychedelic edge . Anyone familiar with Witchcraft's earlier albums won't find too many surprises hear, as “Legend” displays the band doing what they do best, perhaps with a slightly more modern feel.
Returning to the fold with a largely revamped line up, Magnus Pelander (vocals, formerly guitars) and Ola Henriksson (bass) recruited two new guitarists and a new drummer before recording “Legend”. Lineup changes don't always mean huge changes in sound, and thankfully, the new lineup keeps that vintage Witchcraft feel. If anything, the new members seem to bring a more professional approach to the music.
To the uninitiated, Witchcraft takes the traditional doom approach of Pentagram, the riffing and vibe of early Black Sabbath and runs it through a blender of classic rock influences such as Uriah Heep (minus the prog), Thin Lizzy and Steppenwolf. Throw in some Ozzy inspired vocals and you have somewhat of an idea what to expect. Rather than the melancholy atmospheres of other doom acts such as Candlemass and Solitude Aeturnus, Magnus and crew tend to come across as more lighthearted and fun loving.
One of the biggest shifts between 2007's “The Alchemist” and “Legend” is Magnus Pelander focusing solely on vocals and no longer playing guitar. The vocals sound a lot more dominating than previous releases, with Mangus' voice going from a melodic, soft singing to an Ozzy Osbourne inspired wail, sounding quite similar to Dan Fondelius of Count Raven. The Ozzy influence is there, but the vocals are so much better than the Ozzmn's output of the past two decades, as the lines are clear and intelligible. Actually, I imagine this is what Ozzy would sound like if half a century of drug abuse and alcoholism had never happened. Lyrically, Magnus has matured quite a bit since the “Wooden Cross” days, but some juvenile aspects still remain (“Democracy” especially).
New guitarists, Tom Jondelius and Simon Solomon, carry the torch passed from previous albums. It actually sounds as if the pair have been in the band all along, as there is no dramatic change from earlier releases. The guitar lines are, honestly, much more professional than that of the self titled debut and “Firewood”, but “The Alchemist” saw Witchcraft upping their playing abilities and professionalism. The guitars sound more modern than the previous releases and don't have the analog feel during the riffs. The solos and fills tend to have a pervasive 1970's vibe and sound, but are given a much more powerful punch. Slow and monstrous Black Sabbath infused riffing dominates this release, but the guitars take on a lighter edge at times and give a little breathing room with flowing, melodic lines.
Rather than following the guitar, the bass lines go all over the map. Henriksson's playing on “Legend” sounds pretty much like one rolling fill. Walking bass lines fill in all the gaps between riffs and notes and never lets up. The drums continue the vein of earlier releases, being fairly laid back and having more in common with classic rock than with doom metal. Oscar Johansson is not a showy drummer on this release and is content to play tom heavy lines with minimalistic cymbal work.
Switching to a major label must have it's perks, as Nuclear Blast Records were able to provide the fine services of producer, mixer and mastering extraordinaire, Jens Bogren. Bogren has worked with a long line of acclaimed acts, such as Opeth, Amon Amarth, Katatonia, Ihsahn, Paradise Lost and Symphony X, just to name a few. Increased production values are evident, as Witchcraft finally sounds like a modern band, without sacrificing any of their 1970's vibe. Every instrument can be heard through the entire album. There are no overly muddy sections and the drums are clear as day (unlike the tinny, trash can sound of previous efforts).
The track “It's Not Because of You” sums up “Legend” best with the line, “It's not because of you, I'm still in love with what I do.” It's obvious that Magnus Pelander and crew absolutely love what they are doing. Five years after their last album and Witchcraft haven't missed a beat. With the now-so-popular 1970's revivalist scene, “Legend” just might be the best example the genre has to offer. Recommended to everyone, as this is a great album that should be seeing a lot of top ten lists this year.