Witchcraft – Black Metal Review

A number of years ago, I learned that an old friend of mine had acquired a record deal that resulted in the release of a professional solo EP. It was an acoustic album, contrasting strongly with the complex, over-the-top heavy metal I preferred at the time. Still, the result was an honest, beautiful exploration of a single moment in the artist’s life, and I’ve come to greatly appreciate the style in the years since. Today, I have a ton of admiration for acoustic music, especially when it’s influenced by metal. Stripped of the complexities of multiple instruments and overbearing production themes, neofolk as a genre finds beauty in simplicity, which I think is amazing. So when I learned that Witchcraft was stepping away from their usual doom rock style to release Black Metal, an entirely acoustic album, I essentially launched myself at the opportunity to review it.1

Magnus Pelander, the sole remaining founding member of Witchcraft, takes the reins on Black Metal, seemingly completely. There is his voice, and there is soft plucking on an acoustic guitar, and these two sounds comprise almost the entirety of the Black Metal sound. It sounds very different than the Witchcraft usual — certainly, it stands completely apart from Legend and Nucleus. The plaintive, mournful tune that opens the album persists throughout its thirty-three-minute runtime, creating an intimate, mournful atmosphere that is perfectly captured in the title of the opening track, “Elegantly Expressed Depression.” That’s probably the strongest song on the album too, with Pelander’s voice sounding only moments away from falling apart completely. I love the guitar work as well; its chords lingers in the mind long after the song is done.

Black Metal is a quiet album. The atmosphere is fragile and delicate. Everything about the experience is reminiscent of a single man in a dark room with his guitar. That’s probably the best way to listen to Black Metal too; the slightest outside ambience is all it takes to pull you out of the fold. As a whole, this overwhelming silent melancholy creates a potent sense of atmosphere, tense and fragile at once. Songs like “Free Country” and “A Boy and a Girl” never raise the pace above a crawl, and utilize Penader’s low, country-adjacent drawl to great effect.

The raw, live-like, feel of Black Metal can be both a blessing and a curse to its message. In “Grow,” the repetition of softly-strummed chords and lack of general substance is a problem for such a seven-minute-long track. Across the album, my interest waxes and wanes on a consistent basis as a result of these deliberate choices. “Take Him Away” is an interesting example of Witchcraft trying to be engaging and detached at the same time. The verses are somber and slow — and really lovely — but the instrumental “chorus” feels like it belongs on a different song, and a much more upbeat one. On one hand, when Pelander focuses his energy fully on the somber atmosphere, he nails it. On the other hand, it’s hard to really get sucked into such a slow, quiet album with relatively little going on throughout. The balance Black Metal is consistently working to strike feels very elusive. It’s hard to say that this album isn’t enjoyable or emotional, but it isn’t consistently engaging or affecting either.

Black Metal reminds me of Tarot’s Stigmata album, and the “Sleepless” track in the middle. Seemingly out of nowhere, the whole progressive-aggressive sound stopped, and out came a song so quiet you might just miss it if you’re not paying attention. When you do pay attention, however, the result is heart-achingly beautiful. Witchcraft’s acoustic journey took this concept and made an album of it. Ultimately, it lacks the substance to fully captivate me, but I appreciate it greatly all the same. For every time I’ve found myself alone in a dark room trying to translate feeling into music, I have a great fondness for Black Metal, and hope to hear more acoustic work from Witchcraft in the years to come.


 

Rating: 2.5/5.0
DR: 10 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Nuclear Blast Records
Websites: witchcrafthome.com | facebook.com/witchcraft
Released Worldwide: May 1st, 2020

Show 1 footnote

  1. Sorry, Huck.
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