Witchcraft – Legend
Posted by Terrible Certainty Zine
Since 2004 Witchcraft has established itself not just through the impressive quality of its art, but equally for its unabashed retro stylings. The vintage equipment and recording techniques, and warm, hazy ‘70s psychedelic Pentagram worship has helped define the band. Thing is, that party’s getting crowded, what with fellow Swedes Burning Saviours, the Witchcraft-related Graveyard, and Noctum all plying the same style, and in truth all doing so quite well. It’s been five years since the release of The Alchemist, but Legend certainly sounds like many more could have passed. Witchcraft has sloughed off much of its stylized Pentragram tribute in favor of a clean, mainstream production. The guitar tone in particular is shockingly standard. It’s clear that the band has purposely taken steps to break out of the retro mold. Now, the cynic would opine that this must be a calculated move to a more mainstream (read: profitable) sound for its first record since a move to Nuclear Blast. Cooler heads may wonder if the new members on guitar and drums brought influence. Others will interpret this as shrewd but sensible artistic growth that allows Witchcraft to progress outside the restrictive confines of patently retro rock and proto-doom.
Critics and fans talk about the motives and integrity of artists/albums/genres, but it’s rarely anything more than teeth gnashing and guess work. I can’t begin to hazard a guess as to Witchcraft’s motives. What I can tell you is Legend isn’t the Witchcraft album I expected. What’s more, it’s not the Witchcraft album I thought I wanted. It would be easy to dismiss…if the songs weren’t so damn good. Keep in mind, it takes a while to reach that realization. Legend is front loaded with the stuff that hammers home just how significantly the band has jumped its stylistic rails. The brisk, chunky riffing and bright solos of opener “Deconstruction” sound more indebted to Thin Lizzy than Pentagram and Sabbath. It also argues that although the band has moved out of one very specific corner of retro-oriented rock, they’ve hardly transformed into a contemporary band. “Flag of Fate” and single “It’s Not Because of You” are less raucous but still fairly straightforward moody rockers. It’s only after this opening trio, when it’s clear Legend isn’t going to be a typical Witchraft record, that the album takes a welcome turn left of center. The swampy groove and slide guitar of “An Alternative to Freedom” are eyebrow raising, but are perfectly balanced by the muted picking under the verse to create the first wholly convincing evidence that Witchcraft hasn’t lost a bit of ground.
Legend only picks up speed on its second half, and the highlight is “White Light Suicide,” where Witchcraft proves that it can still go full-tilt heavy. Like, stomp your foot, bang your head heavy. Great, great stuff. The band back off a bit on “Democracy” but forgets to tell frontman Magnus Pelander, who spits out lyrics with a vitriolic snarl Maynard James Keenan would appreciate. The album’s final twist is into sparse, wide openness of “Dystopia” and “Dead End,” where Witchcraft temporarily ditches its direct approach that’s dominated the album in favor of dark psychedelic atmosphere.
After digesting the album as a whole it becomes easier to understand and appreciate the opening tracks. Legend covers a lot of diverse ground, and some of its hooks are more immediate than others, but as a collection the album is surprisingly effective and convincing. It’s perfectly clear that Witchcraft is a talented band with a penchant for smart melodies and quirky textural flourish that extends well beyond the boundaries observed on their excellent first three records. That said, Legend feels like a transition album, and it will be fascinating to hear the future growth of these Swedes. Until then, set aside expectation and get comfy with the intriguing, charismatic Legend. (8/10)