Witchcraft – Nucleus

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Nuclear Blast

Review by Rick Ossian

amazon_badgeitunes_logo03-300x112Doom and gloom enthusiasts will be happy (or will they?) to know that Orebro, Sweden’s Witchcraft are up to their new tricks again.  These purveyors of pessimism may seem bleak at first, but there is some considerably good musicianship and writing and arranging going on here, particularly considering that they are a three-piece combo.  But Rick, you say – isn’t the history of Hard Rock and Heavy Metal loaded with wicked three-piece combos?  Yes, indeed, dear reader – they are.  We’ve always had Taste or Cream or Rush or the Jimi Hendrix Experience to look to.  That’s not my point here.  What we need to address is the quality AND the quantity of noise – music, if you prefer.  Both are finer points of Witchcraft‘s attack.  Though they may indeed be arbiters of anger (you want more? I got lots more!), they can also really jam.

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Take the first track, for example.  In opener Malstroem, (Maelstrom is the way I thought it was spelled- who knew), the boys do some seriously disturbing stuff.  The vocals are at once thoughtful, haunting, creepy, even apocalyptic at times.  You will hear me say this again.  Magnus Pelander (vocals, guitar)’s vocals are eerily wobbly.  Try to say THAT one five times fast, tongue twister aficionados!  His cohorts, Tobias Anger on bass and Rage Widerberg on drums, are in-the-pocket when it comes to a good rhythm section.  More than once was I reminded of the engine room(s) of such stalwarts as Black Sabbath, Deep Purple and Uriah Heep whilst listening to these gents.

But I digress. Malstroem is about as intense as it gets.  It starts off with a doomy fingerpicking intro.  It will make you feel as if something ominous is about to enter your stratosphere.  Yes, its that creepy.  Some nice guitar work, though, with a building intensity about it.  At just past the minute in mark they kick into classic doom and gloom Sabbath-style riffing, stopping briefly to take on some Metallica-esque ‘metal marching’, if you will.  At 2:15 they shift to an even slower beat.  At three minutes the riffs are heavy as fuck and plodding like the proverbial plesiosaurs.  At 3:40 the vocals came in, and I must confess to being as surprised as anyone.  I thought for sure this track would be an instrumental!  Some slow and deliberate jamming here.  At 5:40 they go up a step, then back (5:50) to another slow plod.  At about seven-and-a-half minutes in they decide to shift an even heavier, slower plod.  Then they go up a step and close with some solitary riffing.  Truly a monster track.  This one is worth the ride by itself!  An 8 1/2 minute track for the opening song?? What were they thinking?  I don’t know, but it certainly worked for me!

The next track, Theory of Consequence, is the same sort of thing only much, MUCH smaller.  At just under two-and-a-half minutes, we get feedback and heavy riffs right from the intro.  Classic dinosaur-ish metal.  Magnus proclaims “stupid and dumb/your favorite words” to his nemesis.  There is shifting speeds again, sort of like the previous track only in microcosm.

The Outcast is back into the bizarre world of retro rock again, and they kick us in the face first off with a drum intro and some heavy riffing.  This is an upbeat temp, more ‘regular’ Heavy Metal/Hard Rock, if you will.  Is that a flute I hear in there?  Why, yes, I believe it is.  But only briefly, dear reader…you wouldn’t even probably have noticed it had I not been kind enough to mention it!  At 2:35 there is a major shift into some feedback, then midtempo, then introspective fingerpicking again.  The vocals slowly begin to rant and rage, and then at the four-minute mark we get a lead guitar solo!  Hooray for leads!  At 4:35 proceedings turn into a squalling beehive of wah/crybaby FX.  This goes right up to the close of the track and is just beautiful.. At just shy of six minutes it is another doomy, proggy masterpiece.

The title track, meanwhile, could most likely stand on its own.  It is at least half of an EP, at just over fourteen minutes, it is a Metal monster.  The ominous intro on guitar should clue you in, we’re in for another long and winding ride!  At two minutes in the vocals start, and they are super creepy.  Magnus gets extra points for overall creepiness.  At three minutes in, we are back in Riff City, with some powerful vocals to boot.  These vocals are plaintive and painful at the same time.  Angry, even (4 minutes in).  At 4:35 there is a screaming guitar solo, and at 6:20 we get a shift back to slow acoustics.  This seems to be a pattern with these boys, but I didn’t think it was overdone.  At seven-and-a-half minutes in they throw the chanting monks into the mix (dirge-like with drums).  Then, at 9:50, we get a lead guitar solo on top of this! Keeping up?  I thought so!  At eleven-and-a-half minutes in, a wailing witch is added to the mix, then we have the final section, which I would confess is a bit boring – spooky, but repetitive.  I wouldn’t let it detract you from the overall bleak nature of the tune.  If bleak is your thing, then this is your road map, baby!

An Exorcism of Doubts is up next.  It is another longer track, but only half the length of its predecessor.  It is more of the Sabbath-style doom-and-gloom concoction, but you will get used to it if you just let the music be your master!  This is a heavy blues, with heavy-as-fuck riffing to boot.  At the 3:20 mark we get a Bluesy lead guitar solo.  At the four-minute mark, however, we get a new movement – a shift to uptempo beat with heavy-as-hell riffing AGAIN.  Lots of riffs here, good ones for the most part.  It is also very, very Sabbath-y.  Did I mention that?  At the 5:20 mark there are more of the angry vocals.  At 6 minute in we go back to the plodding blues with a lead guitar spot on top of it.  At 6:40 they shift yet again back to the introspective acoustic guitar strumming.  A band’s got to have a place to go at the end, after all.  Another 7.5 minute masterpiece!

The Obsessed has more in the same vein; a nice drum intro, some heavy Sabbath-style riffing.  This time out, however, they use one of my favorite words in their lyrical scheme of things.  Just see if you can spot it, reader!  The vocals seem to be almost shrouded in the mix at times, but I think that’s just one of the myriad FX these blokes have in their arsenal.  There are clouds and wind on here, too – go figure!  There are also a couple of fine guitar pieces, one at 2:20 and another at the four-minute mark.  This is NOT just another plodding blues.  But it sort of is.  There is some Uriah Heep influence going on in here too, methinks.

To Transcend Bitterness features another Heavy Metal riff-happy intro.  The vocals are painful, even angry again.  The riffing is mainly uptempo, and there is another shift at the two-minute mark.  Some feedback, riffs, and more angry vocals later, and we have another four-minute number in the bag!

Helpless is about six-and-a-half minutes (wow), and begins AGAIN with an  introspective creepy fingerpicking intro.  This time they throw in some keys for good measure.  The vocals are intensely creepy, and plaintive – just like before.  As I said before, sometimes a pattern can be a good thing.  Sometimes, not so much.  I mention it only in passing.

Breakdown, the closer, is the longest grandaddy of them all.  This bugger is just shy of 16 minutes, and is another Witchcraft EP all by itself in the works.  Figuratively speaking, that is.  I’m not sure what they had in mind, but I’m sure this track could stand alone if it needed to.  I will say this – it is a lot more interesting at the beginning than it is at the end.  There is some bogging down and some repetitive aspects of the track that will probably bore a few metal mavens out there.  We shall see, and time will tell.  I listened to this track twice and was still enthralled till the last few minutes or so.

It starts out life with the obligatory FX (waves, I think), then some guitar and bells (??) and things.  It sounds a bit bass-y at first, but then it could just be the lower end of the guitar spectrum.  The vocals are eerily wobbly again, but I like the intensity of it.  It is very creepy, even the lyrics can get to you: ‘how deep is this?/ how shallow can we be?‘  Some strumming and vocals at the 3-minute mark slowly fade into some guitar FX at around 5:35.  The bells serve a sinister purpose, I just KNOW they do – not sure what, though.  Not yet.  They do go on a bit longer.  The poetry snippet at 7 minutes in kind of surprised me – briefly.  Some serious feedback and heavy, HEAVY riffs later, I noted that there was some really sad stuff going on here.  Thematically, lyrically, that is.  At 10 and 1/2 minutes in Magnus is literally howling his delivery, and things get pretty depressing.  It is a harrowing tale, after all.  The FX are almost ghostly.  At twelve minutes in, we get some wind FX.  There is evidently a storm a brewing.  The vocal/radio FX plus the feedback towards the close is where they start to lose me.  At fourteen minutes in they add witches and warlocks moaning, and it gets sort of long and boring and repetitive.  But other than that, a truly captivating track.  The whole recording is well done, especially if you like your metal on the slightly unhappy side!

Verdict: 8/10

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