We’ve already touched in the past on the interesting and mercurial qualities that a band’s career can have. From traditional models to high expectations, the definition of what a career is and how a band should progress as it moves along forges the way that bands write and release music. One of the more interesting influences that such a longevity can have on a band is a sort of mesa: a point where the band have released enough solid releases to have created their own unique sound. Upon reaching this mesa, bands can react in several different ways. Sadly, plenty of them turn to stagnation, momentum and naval gazing.
However, the mesa, that established sound and name that can be acquired, can also do wonders for an artist’s confidence. This allows them to look back on their releases and perhaps take chances, mix and match influences and create something new and interesting. Such is the case, happily, with Witchcraft‘s Nucleus. While the band don’t enjoy widespread popularity, they’re a veteran stoner band, this being their fifth release. It features them digging deeper into what makes them tick, bringing forth new progressions to their natural sound.
Like their 2012 Legend, this release presents Witchcraft in a well produced, modern light. But, unlike that masterpiece of a release, it digs back into their earlier releases for inspiration, bringing back a lot of the slower, more abrasive themes that used to define their music. From the mesa of their experience, Witchcraft look back at their work and pick and choose what was great then and what is great now to create one of the finer albums of their career.
The first three tracks of Nucleus present themselves as an outreached hand, grabbing on to where Legend left off. They exhibit the faster, more rock n’ roll feeling that that album brought to the fore from the more stoner releases of their past. That’s what made Legend great and it works here as well: the signature vocals of Magnus Pelander ring true over the fast paced riffing of “The Outcast”. The slightly slower opener “Malstroem”, still features the light, flittering guitar tone of the previous release. These elements, that in other bands might be considered contrite or played out, work well here. This is not surprising: Legend is Witchcraft in their prime, so a nod to that is a welcome thing.
The fourth track is where things begin to change. “Nucleus” is fourteen minutes long and is much, much slower. Its lilting guitars and super-fuzzy choruses remind us of classic Witchcraft tracks like “What I Am” or “Queen of Bees”. Following suit are Pelander’s vocals, now taking on the honey-drenched attributes that made him and the band so special. However, this is more than just a repetition or self-worship; this is an iteration, building on classic elements while infusing them with plenty of new ideas. An interlude in the middle of the track features Witchcraft at their most melodic, the reverb turned down low although not completely off. One is reminded of the more melodic passages of Led Zeppelin, but somehow all the more powerful for existing in the middle of the usual Witchcraft style, especially when the vocal choir reaches its epic crescendo.
Nor does the novelty stop with one change. Intent on much more than just a gimmick, Witchcraft have prepared for us the closing track, “Breakdown”. Like its name might suggest, it features the classic stoner sound, stripped down. The result is something so slow and ponderous that we must invoke the mighty Earth in order to describe it: melodic yet lethargic guitars usher in the track, straddling the borderlines between stoner and drone. After the several previous tracks, which featured that old-school stoner we mentioned before, these passages come as a surprise but also a balm. We relax but are still intent, focusing on the little hints and notes between the deceptively repetitive guitar leads. The fifteen minute track doesn’t stop there either: after almost seven minutes, it introduces the most massive and dirty riff that Witchcraft have ever written.
We’re in Electric Wizard territory now: everything hums and vibrates to the pace of the churning guitars. Where Legend was fast, this is slow. Where the older works were honey dripping, this is acid. “Breakdown” is perhaps the most interesting track that Witchcraft have ever written; they’ve pushed themselves to their absolute limit, shining a dark, flickering light on the essence of their sound. Like this entire album, it expands on what we’ve come to expect from Witchcraft but also catches us off guard. Nucleus is the work of artists secure in the intimate knowledge of their own sound but also brave enough to keep digging. It is the absolute bedrock of the Witchcraft sound, featuring the best of all points of their career.
Witchcraft – Nucleus gets…