Witchcraft don’t do anything quickly. It’s been nearly four years since Legend, and there was a five year wait for that.
Magnus Pelander is back with a brand new line up, and back playing guitar for the band after focusing solely on vocals for the previous album.
This is stoner/doom metal/classic rock with a direct line from Black Sabbath. The Swedes incorporate a subtly experimental grungy underbelly, counterpointing the simplicity of the repeating riffs and ensuring that it never becomes boring or predictable during the elongated breakdown grooves.
The production is excellent. The traditional four piece setup is clearly audible and not masked by any studio trickery. There is little noticeable overdubbing. There are no bells and whistles, just memorable riffs, dynamic music and epic songs.
On first listen it sounds simple, pure, and raw like a Steve Albini record. But further spins reveal new layers. Strings samples, a flautist, and additional vocals supplement the spare arrangements, and squealing, effected guitars howl discordant harmonies to the seriously crunchy power chords.
Magnus' guitar shrieks feedback between chords like Billy Corgan’s on the early Smashing Pumpkins stuff. The blunt, bludgeoning riffs smell like Nirvana’s Bleach. Witchcraft went as far as covering the Seattle trio's ‘Even In His Youth’ for the B-side of the first single from Nucleus.
The music may be Sabbath influenced but the vocal inflections are more like those of Robert Plant or Muse's Matt Bellamy. Some of the guitar licks are Zeppelin-esque too and there are shades of NWOBHM in the clean arpeggios and live-sounding, heavily overdriven guitars.
There’s no fast, fretboard shredding riffs or double bass drums. Megadeth’s early period slower numbers like ‘In My Darkest Hour’ come to mind while listening. Witchcraft are not for everyone but if you like your rock slow and moody, then this will be hard to beat.
When you hear so many bands trying too hard to appear interesting, layering track upon track in a vain attempt to entertain it is both a shock and a relief to hear a band that can do the simple things and do them well.
Witchcraft have embraced the vinyl renaissance releasing the album on double LP. There are only nine tracks in total, but ‘Nucleus’ and ‘Breakdown’ each take up one side of a record by themselves.
‘Malstroem’ is a strong introduction to the album and ‘Theory Of Consequence’ rattles by in a ‘70s blues-rock blur. Lead single ‘The Outcast’ is a cracking tune in two movements, the second of which is a dead ringer for Martha And The Muffins ‘Echo Beach’.
‘Nucleus’ is the first of two epics on the album and is heavy, melodic, tuneful, and massively enjoyable. After 14 minutes of the title track, side three is a bit of a comedown. The drive and imagination falter a bit but the gargantuan ‘Breakdown’ prevents the album from petering out.
It’s those two Brobdingnagian monsters that make this record into something greater than the sum of its individual songs. Given such space to breathe and flourish they explore musical territory that one might not expect from Witchcraft, without succumbing to Onanistic prog.
Overall, Nucleus is listenable, accessible, likeable, and just superb. With this album Witchcraft have set the bar for 2016 and it will take something special to raise it.