Five years. If this were a David Bowie song, we’d all be dead by now.
It’s been five years since Sweden’s 1970s-fueled psychedelic doomsters Witchcraft released their last album, The Alchemist. And while things have changed internally with the band (Magnus Pelander has relinquished guitar duties in favor of focusing entirely on vocals, while guitarists Tom Jondelius and Simon Solomon are new to the lineup, as is new drummer Oscar Johansson), there’s been little change in the band’s sound. Mid-period Sabbath mixed with vintage Uriah Heep. Pentagram mixed with Black Widow. Thin Lizzy combined with Jethro Tull. All cocktails served light on the prog, heavy on the riffage. Sure, you might say, there are plenty of other bands out there who are pulling from the same damned set of influences as these guys. Nouveau Sabbath bands are a buck and a quarter for a six pack. Big deal. Some trick.
If you’re saying this, then you’ve never heard Witchcraft.
Because goddamn do these guys pull off the impossible by making what would be tired and familiar in the hands of a lesser act sound completely fresh and compelling. Instead of sounding like some contemporary band shallowly aping their heroes, they manage to sound instead like some great lost ‘70s act that somehow just never managed to exist.
The biggest change on this album is that Witchcraft manage to sound even better than before. Magnus’ vocals are more impassioned, with a richer tone and better control. The new guitarists don’t divert from the path the band had been following previously, and reflect the increased musicianship Witchcraft showed on their last album. Bassist Ola Henriksson’s lines are consistently tasteful; complex and dexterous without seeming “showy” or distracting from the music. Drummer Johansson plays with a combined subtlety and force that fits right in with the songs’ numerous dynamic shifts.
Part of how well this album works is surely down to producer Jens Bogren behind the mixing desk, finally wiping the mud and murk from the sonics of the band’s previous efforts without completely updating their sound. It’s like comparing Alice Cooper’s Easy Action with the Bob Ezrin-helmed Love It to Death and Killer. Still sounds like the same band, just better.
Truth be told, I was a bit frightened to take my first listen to this, having enjoyed the band since their debut. Normally a lineup change as dramatic as theirs, combined with a move to a new and larger label (Nuclear Blast), can prove apocalyptic. But, like I said above, they pulled off the impossible. Completely surpassed my expectations, and somehow, their previous work as well.