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Few bands can successfully revisit a sound over thirty years old and, rather than modernizing it, stick true to the original formula and have it be an original, enjoyable experience. Witchcraft, the now legendary psychedelic doom act from Sweden, were able to do that with their debut album, released in 2004 on the oh-so-fitting Rise Above Records label. Rise Above Records is known for releasing albums by some of the best known retro, doom and stoner acts of all time: Electric Wizard, Church of Misery, Angel Witch, Grand Magus, Orange Goblin, Cathedral, and Reverence Bizarre (to name just a few!).
“Witchcraft” encompasses everything that was great about the 1970's doom scene: minimalistic structures, reverb-laden riffing, laid back drumming, wandering bass lines and clean, haunting vocals. If anyone was looking for the true heir to the Pentagram/Black Sabbath throne, it can be found in Witchcraft. While not exactly a riff heavy powerhouse, “Witchcraft” encompasses the general feeling of early doom acts and incorporating the essence of the classic rock scene.
Regardless of future releases, which are decidedly much more metal than their eponymous debut, Witchcraft should be regarded as a retro, psychedelic rock act. Yes, there are metal tendencies and leanings towards doom metal on “Witchcraft”, but the general flow and play of the album more resembles the early work of Roky Erickson and Humble Pie than that of Candlemass or Solitude Aeturnus. Even the production on this album screams late 60's garage band, being ultra-thin, analog and muddy (a problem corrected on future releases).
The music itself borrows heavily from the late 60's to early 70's classic rock scene. The drumming is very casual and laid back. Standard rolls and fills are here and there, but there is nothing exciting. It's actually a rather listless performance, doing no more than carrying the music along. The bass is standard, as well, with most lines following the guitar riffs note for note. The guitars are extremely distinctive. Rather than crushingly heavy riffs, we are given bluesy reverb laden riffs and lines with minimal distortion. The riffs are groove laden and would not seem out of place on a Humble Pie record. The instrumentation is rather sloppy at times, but it remains a fun, nostalgic listen. The true highlight of this album is the vocal performance by Magnus Pelander. Imagine a cross between a less drugged up Ozzy and Pentagram leader Bobby Leibling. Pelander's vocals are on the higher register for most of the time and sound straight out of 1970.
“Witchcraft”, apparently recorded in a basement, sounds like it was recorded forty years ago. In a time of overproduced Metal albums and ProTools sound engineering, it's rather refreshing for a band to revert to the analog days of old. Production is beyond thin and every instrument is hazy. When the music gets faster, things tend to get muddier. The drums sound very tinny, hollow and distant, the bass sounds like it’s wadded in cotton and the guitars are as fuzzy as a peach. The vocals sound muddy and hollow. But that vintage feel is there! “Witchcraft” sounds straight out of a bygone era.
“Witchcraft” jump started the now-so-popular doom revival scene (Graveyard, Ghost, etc) and should be lauded for the effect it has had on the metal industry. Eight years after its release, this album just doesn't hold the same charm as its successors. Don't misunderstand, the music is good, albeit sloppy at times, but the vintage feeling that Witchcraft was going for was perfected with their later releases. “Witchcraft” is an enjoyable listen, but it is by no means essential. Recommended to fans of 70's doom and classic rock.
Written for The Metal Observer
Truth is, there are good bands, there are excellent bands and there are miraculous bands. Black Sabbath were miraculous in 1970. Iron Maiden were miraculous in 1980. Witchcraft are miraculous in 2004.
The band that Magnus Pelander formed after the split up of cult underground heroes Norrsken hit like a sniper. Merely few had laid ears on their single, "No Angel Or Demon", merely few knew what to expect when the CD found its way in the tray (or the LP under the needle - lucky bastards :( ). And that's because we had heard many bands claiming to be "the Sabbath sound of our times", or "the straight descendants of Liebling and Pentagram", but none of them really managed to accomplish. Not the way Witchcraft do. Drunk by the venom that dripped from Iommi's riffs, stoned by the echoes of "Day Of Reckoning", Witchcraft take you on a journey through the darkest side of the 70's sound, a journey you never wish to end. A journey through marvellous melodies, hypnotic vocal lines and haunting sceneries. The production is sooooooo vintage/old-school/70's that you'll search for the release year in the back many times as you go through it.
As far as I'm concerned, I had never believed that there are bands in the 00's that can reproduce the primitive "doom metal" sound so well. I have always hoped and searched, but, although I found several excellent efforts, all of them had a touch of "unwanted metal sound" in them. All of them had something of Candlemass, or Saint Vitus, or even Cathedral in their sound, which is not at all bad. It's just SO NOT 70's. Witchcraft take a different path, and merge their Sabbath/Pentagram influences with prog and folk rock sounds, delivering a haunting sound that is hard to describe with words. I believe that the first listening session of "Witchcraft" is somewhat of a "once in a lifetime" experience. I wouldn't want to spoil yours with any further descriptions. All I can say is do yourselves the favour. Witchcraft is not retro, as many listeners say. For their retro-like sound is something of great novelty in our age. And Witchcraft is not a band. They are more like....a messiah.
Listen to what Nate says...he knows what he is talking about.
So I'm sitting one my laptop one day...chatting Doom with some folks...when Nate here says...."Have you heard Witchcraft yet?". I say..."No man, I haven't." Then he says..."He'd over to Hellride...Chris has an mp3 up." And then I said..."Alright, I shall do it immediately without hesitation." Well to cut to the chase...I went and listened to The Snake...only to be sucked in right then and there into the pyschedelic soundscape that is...Witchcraft.
The thing about this band that really gets me is the focus. These guys know what there sound is...rarely does a band seem to tight and together on a first release as these guys. Every song fits perfectly together as if part of a musical puzzle...yet every song has its own distinct character that sets it safely apart from any other of the 11 tracks.
Witchcraft is heavily influenced by the Pentagram sound for sure...and the others as Nate mentioned...but something else about them is truely original...one of those great things that you can't distinguish...but keeps you coming back for more..and more and more.
I guess the main thing I can do is sum up there sound now. First off, you must know this was recorded in a basement...how professionally I'm not sure...but it isn't far off from JPT Scare Bands recording quality...just more controlled...a bit like old Pentagram...but on more LSD for sure. The vocals are a little bit fuzzy...but very clear and easy to understand...just enough to add a wonderful effect on the music. The guitar tone is a warm little light distortion...but just enough to execute a monster riff when needed. A perfect mix of the instruments are well. The vocals though are beautiful, haunting, and very well executed. If you are a true fan of any Traditional Doom, Psych, Old School Metal, or shit that isn't your run of the mill boring ass uninspired Metal...then please do yourself a favor and get this album.
Sorry if this review sucks and or is too long...I kind of got sidetracked I forgot where I was going with it. Anways...Witchcraft...album of the year 2004...gonna be hard to out do this one.
I'm ecstatic to finally hear an album from this year that is all around excellent. There's been a lot of releases by classic bands this year that have been good but not stellar, and ones by new bands that were good but just didn't really hold your attention.
One glance at these guys and their profiles and you can clearly see that they worship Pentagram, and to be perfectly honest, there aren't many other bands that deserve reverence as much as them.
Soundwise, they are more akin to 70's era Pentagram. Other similar bands would be early Bang, and Sorcery (US). The vocals are spot on, the riffs are just great, and the leads are very well done too. And the other members do a great job at their respective instruments as well.
A lot of the times when you are introduced to a good band, you immediately start praising them emphatically, only to realize about a year later that a lot of that praise was hype and a lot of that praise being due to the fact that it was new and it was the first time that you were listening to it. But then there are those cases, Witchcraft being one of them, where you can clearly see that your praise is all deserving and that a year down the road you will still share those same sentiments about the band that you did a year before.
The stand out tracks for me are "Witchcraft", "No Demon No Angel", "I Want You To Know", "You Bury Your Head", and "The Snake", A great band, and I'm eager to see these guys do good. These guys have my highest recommendation.