CD by Witchcraft
Rise Above Records/Candlelight Records.
The reality that any band immersed in a “retro” rock sound faces is that an inability to transcend novelty can result in them becoming a footnote in music history. After two releases of Black Sabbath/Pentagram-worshipping doom, Sweden’s Witchcraft was close to a point of stagnancy that could have stifled their career. However, what Witchcraft has accomplished with The Alchemist ensures that neither today’s music listener nor history will be able to ignore them.
In an effort to maintain a puritan ’70s rock ethic, Witchcraft recorded without the assistance of digital technology. The analog effort is well appreciated as it results in warm and clear guitar tones, graceful drumming and a soulful vocal performance. One gets the sense that this is how the band would sound if they were to play in your living room. Witchcraft’s heaviness is not the result of down-tuned guitars and processed distortion, but expressive and purposeful songwriting that shames the efforts of bands that scream, flail and pummel their way through music.
The Alchemist opens with “Walk Between the Lines,” which immediately sets the tone for the band’s new musical direction by infusing a haunting guitar melody into an almost poppy arrangement. “If Crimson Was Your Colour” incorporates psychedelic elements into the sound through the introduction of vintage keyboards, and serves to highlight Magnus Pelander’s development as a singer. Frequently compared to his idol, Pentagram’s Bobby Liebling, Pelander treats listeners to a much-increased vocal repertoire. Fans of the band’s Sabbath sound need not be disappointed, as “Leva” proves reminiscent of the groove-fueled rhythms of “Fairies Wear Boots,” and the disc’s fourth and fifth tracks will have the listener reaching for a copy of Master of Reality .
But it’s the last two songs that really separate this release from Witchcraft of yesteryear. Elements of prog-rock come into play on “Remembered” as the song’s simple blues drive is accented by a surprising yet appropriate saxophone solo before fading out to the disc’s closing title track, a neo-folk-tinged epic presented in three movements. Thematically, the lyrics of this song display significant maturity. Expanding his stock collection of myths and folk-tales, Pelander explores the human spirit’s ability to transcend anguish and struggle brought on by mental and physical abuse. For this reason, “The Alchemist” serves as the disc’s most daring and crowning achievement.
Witchcraft may be part of a ’70s rock revolution that will ultimately fade, but they have secured their own longevity. They not only pay homage to their predecessors, they contribute to those traditions and expand musical expectations.
A tour in support of Witchcraft’s latest brings them to The Alibi Sunday, Nov. 11. Portland psych-rockers Danava open.