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Humble Beginnings For Revivalist Legends - 75%

TheStormIRide, September 28th, 2012

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