Witchcraft – Black Metal (Album Review)

Looking for some new music to dig into? Brace yourself, because Nuclear Blast Records are set to release Black Metal, the latest album from Sweden’s Witchcraft, Friday May 1st, 2020. 

Though billed as a band effort, only Founder Magnus Pelander appears on this thirty-minute acoustic missive, and the move perpetuates the relative silence the band has been operating under since Nucleus was released in 2016. Having burst into space with three albums in four years – their self-titled debut in 2004, Firewood in 2005, and The Alchemist in 2007 – the band also managed to keep a healthy lineup during that time; aside from Pelander, the original band featured John Hoyles on guitar, Ola Henriksson on bass (though he played sparingly at first), and Jonas Arnesén on drums.

A lineup which lasted until The Alchemist, when Arnesén was replaced by Fredrik Jansson, soon after the band left for Nuclear Blast Records, then took close to five years to package 2012’s Legend and another four to assemble Nucleus. In the midst of this, Pelander also found time to present Time in 2016 to Nuclear Blast Records under his own name, a follow-up to his earlier solo EP, 2010’s A Sinner’s Child. 

Which all leads us to present day where he is set to release Black Metal under the Witchcraft banner. Containing seven peculiar, sundry tracks, any one of which could have formed the basis for a proper solo album of interwoven tracks. Instead, the selections vary from cold and bitter, to warm and inviting, to even calm and airy, with clear but subtle nods by Pelander to his creative influences. Most of these glances are into the past, to the dearly departed work of heroes like Jeff Buckley, Elliot Smith, and Nick Drake, but also contemporaries like Ray Lamontagne and the indelible Bobby Liebling also receive their due – particularly on the fleeting “A Boy and a Girl.”

The dark opener “Elegantly Expressed Depression” puts you back on your heels, drawing on the darkness cast by the album title and offering nearly six minutes of Pelander becrying his trials and tribulations. Just as swiftly as you can shake you heads free of cobwebs comes the aforementioned “A Boy and a Girl,” a leaf plucked by Lamontagne from the tree of Drake on a bright, sunny day, albeit one that passes quickly. Then later, with “Grow,” the bleak promise of the title is blanketed further by tales of woe and alienation, and the timbre and cadence of the backing guitar complete the desolate picture.

A bit of Robert Plant sneaks in generally, particularly from the Untitled/IV period, and “Free Country” which also has a slight guitar resemblance to “Stairway to Heaven.” The penultimate track “Sad Dog” keeps the otherwise broken tone of the album, but “Take Him Away” injects enough of a glimpse toward the sun overhead that you are left to wonder, was Black Metal a cathartic exercise for Pelander, or has he found his new sound? 

Perhaps the intention is to assemble a quick array of disjointed tracks, sharing commiseration and hopefulness in one swirling mass. You are free to focus on the portions that speak best to you, and brush away those that do not. If that is the case, Black Metal has met its goal. That is why Cryptic Rock gives it 3.5 out of 5 stars. 

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