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No Angel Or Demon Will Help Me On My Knees - 79%

CHAIRTHROWER, April 5th, 2018
Written based on this version: 2004, CD, Rise Above Records

Back in the day, when the Internet was in its infancy (and my beard wasn't yet white), there was a wicked, avant-garde on-line store called stonerrock.com, based in New Mexico but unfortunately short-lived as the stoner/doom metal scene was still relatively obscure. Hence, a lack of orders compelled its operators to fold before the genre gained in popularity and duly took off. Ever faithful, or as faithful as my meager finances would allow, nearing its demise I placed a token order consisting of Electric Wizard's Supercoven EP, Pale Divine's Thunder Perfect Mind (a long-standing gem!), Pentagram's Review Your Choices and lastly, Witchcraft's titular debut, released in 2004 under the pioneering Rise Above record label and later re-issued under the likes of The Music Cartel, Candlelight and Leafhound Records (while the latter featured the bonus Pentagram cover, "Yes I Do", curiously, my original under Rise Above was in vinyl and also included said cover; this can be considered as mysterious as the retro artwork's unsettlingly grim wood-borne deviant!).

As far as the Swedes' general sound goes, Agathocles' very well summed it up years back by comparing them to 70s Pentagram (i.e. its original, classic line-up) and fellow American proto-metallers Bang as the dozen tracks topping forty minutes adhere to undistorted and clear, carnival-esque tight rope rhythms which incessantly vary between low and mid tempo except for the uncharacteristic but oh-so-gripping and liberating, sped up swagger of "No Angel, No Demon", the album's stand-out cut by a long shot. In fact, its bouncy, trampoline evoking guitar riff and exultantly scratchy pre-solo guitar shuffle, as well as stratospheric Vincent McAllister meets Ritchie Blackmore pentatonic lead break, literally made me freak out and jump for joy when I first heard it eons ago. Indeed, it was a cathartic moment as it constituted THE track (along with Electric Wizard's "Vinum Sabbathi") which fueled my quest to unearth the dark arts of bluesy rock/metal beyond Black Sabbath. As much as I dig antiquated and wizened choice cuts such as the woozily eccentric and exploratory, as well as long-winded, title track or wistful, super 60s and "If The Winds Would Change" sounding "What I Am", only vigorously got into the swing of things with said wary, shoulder glancing gem, which still gives me chills to this day.

Alternatively, the sole track I find way too theatrical and painfully languid is "The Snake" (no pun intended), due in part to front/ax man Magnus Pelander's disenfranchised and glum as all get out, over-the-top thespian vocal delivery. Mind you, the jaunty drum/cymbal rides are a nice touch, but still, I'm thankful it lasts under three minutes. Likewise, Pelander's haughty and bizarre Bobbly Liebling/Frank Ferrara nasal croons and cawing bellows risk leaving many non-plussed and at odds with the quartet's lugubriously rendered overtures and pseudo-medieval flair. Regardless, fans of the above, as well as classic 70s rock, will surely revel in Pelander and John Hoyles' placidly deployed albeit colorful and noodling soloing. For that matter bassists Mats Arnesen and Ola Henriksson (whose playing, on this release anyhow, is limited to "No Angel No Demon") serve up grooved out and under-towing line after line - their prominently resounding plump tones also hark back to the days of spiraling, vintage telephone-like patch cords!

Further nostalgic eye-brow cocking highlights include the twirly, quirky as Hell "I Want You To Know", with its slap-y break beat style drums, courtesy of Jonas Arnesén, and Pelander's foreboding chant reminiscent of an evil, kingdom usurping vizier: "We are the reason/Why the gods change the season!" preceding the song's downwind and eerily autumnal denouement. Interestingly, Witchcraft's "heaviness" (decidedly, in a 1960s sense) lies in its uncanny ability to mix mystical, fairy-like guitar progressions with dour and mournful, wood-nymph evoking harmonies, like it so portentously does on the catchy, if not darkly enchanting, "It's So Easy" (GN'R can stuff it!) and ruefully brooding "You Bury Your Head", of which I particularly dig the cheeky and sardonic, Pentagram influenced lyrics and moody, Greg Mayne-ish bass line. Perhaps the most memorable track of all though is the whimsical but mellifluously poignant closer "Her Sisters They Were Weak" thanks to its fluttering, Hands of Orlac style flute and touchily poised guitar passages, not to mention Pelander's downright knavish and sinister backwards hymning. This appropriate finale eclectically winds down with an awesome twang-y blues solo as well as soporifically magical and chime-y glockenspiel/triangle notes.

At this point, it goes without saying the rare Pentagram covers fit this release like a red corsage on prom night; effectively, one could easily mistake them for Witchcraft originals. Also of note is how Bobbly Liebling assisted the lads' on stage once for their wonky live reprise of "When The Screams Come"...the grand daddy of D.C. Doom must be mighty proud of his protégées! While further Witchcraft releases, including its latest from 2016, Nucleus (which I shamefully admit I've yet to properly hear), ascribe to similarly archaic and bluesy, psychedelic/occult-ish vibes, this here debut truly constitutes a landmark release in the annals of doom metal and heavy psych rock alongside gems from fellow Örebro natives Burning Saviors, and more recently, Italy's Psychedelic Witchcraft (in spite of its jejune moniker!). That said, if you're partial to such a withering albeit captivating sound, consider giving this 2004 trailblazer its humble digs.