Now entering their third active decade, Swedish doom/occult rockers Witchcraft kick off the 2020s with their new all-acoustic album Black Metal, their first release in 4 years following 2016’s Nucleus.
Witchcraft’s new release Black Metal breaks their habit of having a very long song as the closing track, in fact the whole album has a short running time, barely going over 30 minutes. Being an entirely acoustic album, it was bound to sound different from their other material, but even knowing this it still makes for a surprising listen, diverging from their previous sound significantly. Listening to it blind, one would be hard-pressed to tell it was a Witchcraft album at all.
Listeners would be partly right in thinking it wasn’t a Witchcraft album, as strangely, the only remaining member now is the vocalist Magnus Pelander (who used to also be one of the guitarists). This explains a lot about the change in their sound – and helps answer the questions of anyone wondering where the Tony Iommi inspired bluesy guitar solos went after the third album; the original guitar line up of Magnus Pelander and Jon Hoyles only lasted for those first three releases.
One might expect an acoustic album by an occult rock/doom metal band to go in one of several directions: for example something in the vein of the acoustic interludes on Black Sabbath’s early albums such as ‘Embryo’ and ‘Orchid’, or perhaps an occult twist on folky/bluesy late 60s/early 70s acts like Fairport Convention and Jefferson Airplane. What we actually get is very different: the album feels very sparse and minimalistic, with little to no occult/doom influence.
Furthermore, despite its short duration it seems to drag on - the guitar picking patterns are often repetitive and the vocal lines are slow and drawn out, verging on boring. The vocals are quite uncharacteristic for Magnus, he seems to be putting on a slight southern US accent at times. Perhaps the worst example of this is on the cyclical and seemingly nonsensical lyrics on the chorus to ‘A Boy And A Girl’, as well as on the line “I’m a sad dog” on ‘Sad Dog’, which sounds a little grating.
‘Grow’ is perhaps the saving grace of the album – with gentle but ominous sounding guitar and brooding, lamenting vocals rising and falling in haunting waves, full of soul and longing. The dark, reflective and sombre vocal melody over the fluttering guitar is almost reminiscent of Scott Walker in places, albeit a stripped back, acoustic and grungey version.
The final track ‘Take Him Away’ has a catchy guitar riff almost reminiscent of one of Alice In Chains’ unplugged sessions, but the track is so short, and the time between repetitions of the riff are so long and sparsely punctuated with guitar that it feels like it’s only the embryo of a song, and it could have been developed a lot more.
Overall, the album is not so much a difficult or distasteful listen, it is just largely unremarkable save for the highlight of ‘Grow’. It’s something one might put on as calming, mellow (if mournful-sounding) background music. Unfortunately, it is hard to escape the feeling that Witchcraft could have done much more with an acoustic album, given the influences apparent in their earlier work and how interesting it would have been to hear them worked into acoustic songs.
Would recommend for fans of: Ancient VVisdom, Black Sabbath, Pentagram, Acid Bath, Wishbone Ash
Black Metal is out now via Nuclear Blast!