We all come across things in our lives that become obsessions. But how do we pay homage to those things and how do we choose to enjoy the items that add value to our lives? There are many ways, and it’s hard to argue any manner is wrong. That is unless your fixation is illegal. Then pretty much any way of enjoying it is wrong. Pretty sure I didn’t need to point that out.
Like, OK, you love photography. That means you can fill physical and digital albums with your work and show it to everyone you know, most likely annoying them. You don’t want to be that person. Or, you could become overtaken by a sports team and fill your game room with paraphernalia and souvenirs, likely ostracizing your significant other and preventing people from wanting to visit you during games. I don’t know why I chose to make this a negative. It’s just the way things go sometimes. Oh, hey, you could become obsessed with heavy metal and devote overflowing essays to the music you like.
Swedish band Witchcraft acknowledged their obsession with American doom rock legends Pentagram and singer-songwriter Roky Erickson by trying their hands at similarly styled music as a one-off tribute. Most of the music at the start was their own, some of it penned by Bobby Liebling on Pentagram records, all of it designed to tip their caps to their primary influences. Then things got out of control, in a really good way. It became a full-blown band, and now Witchcraft are one of the most well-respected vintage-style doom units going, and they have a heavily anticipated new release “Legend” scheduled later this year on Nuclear Blast. Maybe one day some young kids will be inspired by Witchcraft’s music and return the favor to them, continuing the circle well into the future. But that’s for the future.
Before “Legend” drops, we have a matter of Witchcraft business to get out of the way, namely the reissue of their first three albums by Metal Blade. These collections, as noted, are highly respected releases and, while sounding as if they were jettisoned to modern times via time warp, they also have a weird timelessness to them as well. And that the whole thing started primarily to honor their heroes, it’s incredible how great the band already sounds on their debut and how much they grow with subsequent efforts. It’s easy to hear this was no mere tribute band. And now they’re way more than just Pentagram disciples.
If you’re new to Witchcraft’s music or just need to get your collection in order, these reissues will be of much value to you. They haven’t been impossible to find before this (at least for me they haven’t), but Metal Blade always does a bang-up job with these missions, so you know grabbing these new versions will be worth your money. And for me, revisiting these albums has paved the way for a Witchcraft renassaince for me, and I plan to enjoy these songs over glasses of spirits on weekend evenings. They’re perfect for that.
Obviously we’ll begin with their 2004 self-titled debut, released by the stellar Rise Above. Actually, all three of these records were put out by that label, and they work closely with Metal Blade, so yeah. You see the union. Anyhow, this first record was recorded on vintage equipment, and damn it if the songs don’t totally reflect the ’60/’70s doom-folk era. The songs sound catchy and foreboding, dark and magical, and the band has a style and songwriting knack that makes them sound of that era, and not mere throwbacks. The band’s music is like a weird amalgamation of Pentagram, Black Sabbath and The Animals, and once you hear the words, “Witchcraft, take one,” at the start of this record, you know you’re in for a dark journey.
“The Snake” has a pure Sabbath influence, both musically and with Magnus Pelander’s vocals; their cover of “Please Don’t Forget Me,” penned by Liebling, is stunning and true; “What I Am” is like a fireside dirge; “No Angel or Demon” has a bit of Southern rock flavor, something that would return here and there on future releases; “It’s So Easy” is poppy and has a ’90s alt-rock feel; “You Bury Your Head” is a blues-based rocker that is the most aggressive piece on here; and closer “Her Sisters They Were Weak” weaves folk and tragic storytelling into things. It’s a stimulating close to an impressive debut.
The band’s second album “Firewood” followed a year later, and noticeable from the start is the change in production. Their songwriting and approach still boasted ’60s/’70s pride, but the songs didn’t have a dated, dusty feel to them like they did on their debut. It’s up to you if that’s a drawback, but it never bothered me any. In fact, their creative growth is what makes me most excited about this album. If there’s any complaint from me, it’s the album art. Really? That’s the best you could come up with?
The record gets off to a great start with a nice one-two punch of “Chylde of Fire” and “If Wishes Were Horses,” a strangely titled song, but one that has the band showing some serious fire, especially when Pelander howls, “We’re so easily controlled/Perhaps that’s what you want to be.” “Mr. Haze” is cool and jazzy, something that hinted to what was ahead on their next album; “Queen of Bees” is slow moving and slithery, bringing back the Sabbath spirit; “Merlin’s Daughter” is a cool instrumental that reminds me of Jethro Tull; and closer “Attention!/When the Screams Come” is a combo number of a Witchcraft original intersected by a Pentagram cover. The union of the two tracks is quite seamless, and it’s yet another tribute to Liebling.
“The Alchemist,” the band’s third and most recent record, landed in 2007 and got a bit more play in America due to its release by Candlelight domestically. In my opinion, it’s their strongest piece of work, as the songs get longer and more confident, the sense of adventure grows, and the band fires on all cylinders as artsist, making some of their most memorable songs to date. As much as I like all of Witchcraft’s work, this is the record of theirs I have listened to the most over the years and it is hand down my favorite.
The main guitar line to opener “Walk Between the Lines” has been burned into my brain ever since I got my original promo copy five years ago, and I also haven’t been able to shake “If Crimson Was Your Colour,” a track with punchy guitar riffs, trippy keyboard work, and some downright Danzig-like yelps from Pelander. It’s also quite noticeable how he grew as a frontman over the band’s years together. “Lena” is slinky and cool but also picks up on a dirty garage rock riff that keeps the edges rough; “Samaritan Burden” is a psychedelic jam that unfurls quite nicely; “Remembered” has its share of Southern and Midwestern rock in its DNA, which makes for a nice, sunburnt curveball, and the inclusion of some sax is quite fitting; and the closing epic title track is more than 11 minutes of pure doom sorcery, with Pelander not-so-subtly insisting, “I can blow your mind.” This album sure does.
Witchcraft are one of the modern bands doing right for roots of doom metal, and they continue to blaze the path started by their heroes. These three records are must-hear for any fan of the genre, and they’ll set the table nicely for whatever the band conjured on their fourth record later this year.
For more on the band, go here: http://www.witchcrafthome.com/
To buy the albums, go here: http://www.indiemerchstore.com/item/14956/
For more on the label, go here: http://www.metalblade.com/english/content.php
And here: http://www.riseaboverecords.com/