It’s 6:50 PM on a cold Saturday night. I’m tapping my foot impatiently, waiting for my lovely girlfriend — a few months my elder, and perhaps a bit slower moving, therefore — to come out from her room. “Come on, darling,” I say, double-checking my tie in the mirror, “we’ll be late if we don’t leave soon.” I hear the door open, and expect to be floored; she always looks so good in dresses, and this is a formal event. I turn around and do a triple-take — she’s wearing a strawberry onesie. I’m left confused as to what her intentions were, and I may perhaps never figure it out. May as well make the most of it, right? This ethos permeated my listening time with the Finnish band Vuohi’s debut full-length Witchcraft Warfare.
What should be the easiest part of the review ends up being the most difficult here: what does this sound like? That depends on what song you listen to. The influences I can track here are Vreid (circa V), Dissection, Deathspell Omega, Second Wave black metal as a general sound and idea, Lock Up, Toxic Holocaust, Kataklysm, Ulver’s Nattens Madrigal, Incantation, and Profanatica. If your first reaction is “huh?” then join the club. I’m all for trying new things, but when I want to try a new beer I don’t just dump three lagers, two pilsners, a stout, and five different IPAs into a glass and chug it back1.
Witchcraft Warfare is, by necessity, an album full of not good songs but good parts of songs. One stirring moment is the nice Kataklysm circa Epic: The Poetry of War riff that rears its head in “Arsonist Dreams” and resurfaces as its closing theme. The darker Slaughter of the Soul-isms that make up the verse in “Cathedral of Runes” are interesting, as are the shouted vocals which are used sparingly and remind of the more theatrical moments of Acherontas. Overall, “Cathedral of Runes” is the best song here, containing a bouncy thrash riff akin to what Toxic Holocaust would sound like playing groove metal, the galloping staccato of Suffocation, and something like modern Cryptopsy. None of these elements are developed into anything and are just thrown into the mix presumably because the band likes those aspects of the above acts. This type of songwriting is the downfall of the record.
Out of seven songs, there’s one absolutely useless track in “Rain,” a two-minutes-and-change introduction that sounds like a watered-down version of the well-done intro on Deathspell Omega’s Drought with the addition of annoying Silencer-style yelping vocals which are fortunately never used in such an obnoxious way again. “Pissing O.T.N.F.” forces the listener to sit through some truly uninspiring death-grind akin to a nondescript Lock Up track that took influence from Nausea before aping Nattens Madrigal to the point where, if there was a musical version of TurnItIn, Vuohi would definitely be called to see the academic dean when this was run through it. “Isotope Annihilation” sounds like it’s trying to rip off Incantation’s Diabolical Conquest and not succeeding too mightily, and given that there are literally thousands of bands who take this approach and do roughly as well, this is another throwaway moment amongst many.
I’m clearly the wrong audience for Witchcraft Warfare. That said I have no idea who the audience for this type of music is. I like the individual parts and influences that make up Vuohi’s sound, and I cannot fault the band as musicians; they play snippets of each style competently. The production is oddly appealing, with a thick, omnipresent bass, snappy drums, and guitars that find a sweet spot between reedy and crunchy. Let me close by presenting you with a scenario. It’s 2007 again, and you’re a young metalhead with a $100 in iTunes gift cards; your family doesn’t know where to start with your increasingly extreme tastes in music. You stare at the computer screen, trawling through iTunes, hoping to find treasures. You ask your metalhead friends on MSN Messenger for recommendations, and they give you a laundry list. You check out one thirty-second clip from each of the myriad records, taking an all-you-can-eat approach to sampling the tunes. Now, take all of those thirty-second samples and throw them into Audacity. Smooth out your volume levels and voila: you’ve basically got what Witchcraft Warfare sounds like from a songwriting standpoint. Maybe I’m too stupid to get it, or maybe there’s nothing of substance to get. Either way, Witchcraft Warfare left me unenthused.