Witchcraft – Black Metal (2020)

Witchcraft were formed in 2000 by vocalist Magnus Pelander and they have a reputation for music that blends metal and rock into masterful works. Their occult themes are at the forefront of melodic metal arrangements and they have deservedly accumulated a following of passionate fans.

Enter “Black Metal”. This is an acoustic album in its simplest form – usually one guitar, with a sprinkling of multiple guitar layers or a dash of piano. Pelander is credited with playing all of the instruments, but it is released as a Witchcraft album and not a solo album. Kudos. The 7 tracks have lengths that vary from 2 minutes to 8 minutes, with most being around 4 minutes.

“Elegantly Expressed Depression” was not just a clever title. Built around disquieting lyrics and themes, like Death visiting and a toxic, all-encompassing relationship, this track is powerful indeed. Like all of the songs on this album, there is a guitar, Pelander’s voice and little else. You can hear the movement of his fingers on the strings and the guitar moving on his lap (or whatever). It was emotional and soulful, at times using interwoven guitar layers. There were some really clever lyrics like “kindred spirits burning in the moonlit cool” and “this curse feels like home”. The track fell away into an instrumental interlude, quietened, then returned to its previous structure. It spoke of regret, bitterness and depression, finishing with a sound like a heartbeat giving out…

“A Boy and A Girl” weighed in at 2 minutes, cleverly weaving lyrics around androgyny, like “she looks like a boy and a girl” and “a girl that looks like a boy”. Other polar opposites are used like summer and winter. The lyrics were repetitive, flipping backwards and forwards between “he” and “she” to keep me guessing. Towards the end I enjoyed “I’m not suggesting anything at all, ‘cept that she looks like a girl that llllooooooookkkksss like a boy”. Pelander occasionally held onto a sound for dramatic effect.

“Sad People” opened with guitar plucking and a seriously raw sound, including fingers on strings and breaths. I was told that sad people can never sit still, among other things. The track was extremely unhurried and it felt like regret, or of being trapped, helpless and powerless. Pelander’s expanding consonants were “obvious, as was his contempt for the person at whom this track was aimed.

“Grow” blossomed with quite a beautiful acoustic opening, reminding me of rain or an autumn field. Some of the lyrics again grabbed me, like “you don’t know what lies inside of me” and “So many things I want to do, or, that I want you to do”. It spoke of being ostracised, of self-loathing and being compromised. In a sinister twist, that beautiful opening repeats all the way through the track, turning in it into a hypnotic instrument.

“Free Country” continued the style to date, with the stripped back sound, stepped back volume and soulful intonation. Again, some of the vocals grabbed my attention. “If you believe in nothing, then nowhere is home” was clever. “By now you’re probably not listening to my requiem, but sadness has a way to give way to happiness” was alarming! RIGHT AT THAT POINT I was thinking, “I’m tired of all this whining… Maybe I’m not sad enough, or have not experienced enough pain, to understand it?” It shocked me. Was it mere coincidence? Or, was there some other dark game afoot?

“Sad Dog”. Really? “Sad Dog”? Ok, I was game. It started with a sad dog that did indeed leave its owner, because he saw something in her eyes. But the dog was a metaphor for a hurtful relationship. I did hear a piano, however. But, this whole business was getting annoying…

“Take Me Away”. Anywhere! This track opened with some elements in one channel, before they are joined by vocals and other elements in the other. Different. But, not clever. “Don’t let them take him” and “don’t let them take him away” are repeated. A lot. A more spirited guitar section was used well, before the dirge again returned. Periods of quiet and silence added some emotional depth, before the initial sound returned. The track then abruptly stopped.

You might think that with all of the intense emotions and lyrics, that this would be a powerful album… In many ways it is, but the stripped back sound hurt its impact. I was often distracted by what I could hear, rather than engaged by it.

In the movie “Jaws” you don’t see the shark for a long time and then not very often after it did appear. This is because it never worked properly and it was kind of hokey. The sound on this album was a bit like that – the raw nature of the guitar work and recording took away from the message.

This album also featured some really clever lyrics, but rather than them being powerful, with an overuse of repetition, their impact was lost. It’s like having ice cream – if you do it too often or have too much, it’s too much of a good thing. Pelander’s vocals were like this too – I could only stand a certain level of “soulful torment” (whining).

Unkindly, I saw Pelander as a very sad mammal who grabbed his guitar and was playing and singing in his bathroom as a way to soothe his soul. It sounded like that. Kindly, it was raw and real. Unkindly, it was amateurish and somewhat contemptuous.

I got a sense that I may not have bonded with this work because I have not been (diagnosed as) depressed, or been sad for extended periods. Perhaps I don’t have that part of the emotional spectrum needed to fully appreciate this work. It was certainly depressing… It left me with an air of discomfort.

This may well be one for the fans of Witchcraft, who will marvel at its nakedness. Me? I was immune to its spell.


Greg Noble.

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