without Internet Explorer,
in 1280 x 960 resolution
“The Alchemist”, Witchcraft's third full length album, saw its release with the band on unsteady ground with consistent lineup turbulence. Following this album, founder, Magnus Pelander, put the band on an extended hiatus (ultimately lasting five years). Magnus and company's previous outings are held in very high regard in the retro doom revival scene, so the shoes that needed filling were quite large. Was Witchcraft able to deliver a solid album amidst the internal strife?
“The Alchemist” can be seen as the continuation of their eponymously named debut and their sophomore classic, “Firewood”. It's a continuation because, while Witchcraft does dabble with new elements, “The Alchemist” has the same analog sound and uncanny late 60's to early 70's classic rock vibe that was so prevalent earlier in their career. If nothing else, this can be seen as a journey into the more stoner rock occupied realms of music, while still retaining that classic, retro doom feel.
The guitars are layered with reverb and fuzz. The riffs are definitely Pentagram inspired, but contain far more groove than the doom legends. Groove laden licks and extrapolations trail just about every chorus, sounding vaguely similar to “The Elephant Riders” era Clutch. Witchcraft have always had a knack for writing catchy riffs that embody the essence of the 1970's doom scene, and “The Alchemist” is no exception, with sections venturing into Iommi inspired heaviness. The riffs are very classic rock inspired, like a slightly heavier, less proggy Uriah Heep. The soloing is casual with a very strong blues influence with hammer ons and pull offs. While some sloppy sections are present, it's a much more professional presentation than previous efforts.
Ola Henriksson's bass lines are as inventive as ever, wandering all over the place and filling any airspace left over behind the guitars. The bass performance is far from the ordinary follow the leader style, with constant fret walking. Fredrik Jansson's drumming is slightly faster paced than Witchcraft's earlier albums, but by no means is it fast. There is still a very laid back feel to the drumming, with rolling fills and heavy cymbal work. “Samaritan Burden” shows the rhythm section in top form, with jazz inspired drumming and a very funky walking bass line The strong classic rock vibe to the rhythm section highlights the excellent vocals and groove laden guitar lines.
Once again, the highlight of the album is vocalist slash guitarist, Magnus Pelander. Sounding similar to Bobby Liebling or a clearer, less whiny Ozzy Osbourne, only somehow sounding younger than both, the vocals are both captivating and slightly haunting. Magnus finally shows that he is not a one trick pony, adding some more elements to his retro doom styled approach. Previous releases showed that he could sing like the greats, but Magnus never added his own flair to the style. “The Alchemist” shows him bringing his own edge to the music, with an occasional gruffness trailing off at the end of lines and hints of deeper ranges mixed in, bordering on a quiet shout.
In continuing with the retro feel of the album, Witchcraft incorporate some additional instrumentation, including saxophone, mellotron and organ. The saxophone line over the prog influenced “Remembered” is tasteful, but I can't help but associate saxophone music with cheesy Steve Gutenburg movies. The mellotron work on the ending track (“The Alchemist”) is stellar, invoking “Deadwing” era Porcupine Tree, while still retaining the classic feel to the music. The extra instrumentation is most notable at the end of “Samaritan Burden”, where Jethro Tull inspired folk and flute is thrown into the mix.
The production on “The Alchemist” is a huge step up from previous Witchcraft releases. Every instrument still sounds like it was recorded on analog, but the muddiness and haze covering instruments and the vocals is gone, making a much cleaner presentation. The drums are less tinny, the vocals are clearer and the guitars sound like they were recorded in a proper studio rather than in a friend's garage.
“The Alchemist” is a much more approachable album than Witchcraft's previous outings, with increased production values present while retaining a retro vibe. Fans of Witchcraft's other albums will definitely enjoy this, as it's pretty much a continuation of what they've done before. Amidst the turmoil of constant line up changes, Magnus Pelander and crew were able to release an excellent album before, unfortunately, going on a five year break. “The Alchemist” is a great starting point for anyone looking to sample some retro doom revivalism.