Analogue verses digital: the debate has been going on ever since the dawn of the digital age. Should bands go for cleaner production and less fuzz, or stick with the old vintage sounds of master tapes and tube amps. With many bands choosing a digital sound over vintage sounds, there seems to be a lack of warm, retro sounding bands in the new millennium.
WITCHCRAFT’s sound is more likened to that of seventies Hard Rock bands (think early BLACK SABBATH for a reference) than most Doom band of today. The production of “Firewood” sounds like it was taken straight out of the mid 1970’s. If you have ever seen pictures of WITCHCRAFT, they definitely look like they are from the 70’s; total hippy/naturalist attire. So what exactly was the band trying to accomplish by taking their sound back to the days of old? Describing the music and feeling of this album may help shed some light on the answer.
We’ll take the drums to start. The drums have a very relaxed feeling to them. They are very minimalist (think early Jazz drummers), and serve to keep a steady beat in the music. It’s definitely not like many Metal drummers who throw as many fills and blast beats into a single song as possible. There are parts when the drums take the forefront, but these parts are few and far between. Put it this way, the drummer is good, but he doesn’t show off. The band seems to know what works when looking for their certain sound. The drums are rather low in the mix, but once again, it works especially well.
The bass on this album is done really well. That connection between the minimalistic drums and the melodic guitars works very well. The bass player is not showing off, like a second-rate Steve DiGiorgio, but rather plays some really nice rolling lines that fill in the gap nicely. Once again, with “Firewood” being a minimalistic album, the bass is done as to not interfere with the feeling of the music.
The guitars are definitely one of the highlights of the album. There are some levels of distortion on this album, but once again, they are few and far between. Clean, non-distorted guitars are used on the majority of this album, giving a very retro feel about them. The chord choices are phenomenal. Everything fits together perfectly. That being said, there are not too many surprises, guitar-wise, on this album. The true depth of the music is shown best when the band has a fuzzy, warm feeling surrounding the guitars (not fuzzy, like puppies, but fuzzy like a dirty, grungy sound). The solos on this album are on a completely different level than most metal bands. They’re not the type of solos that just wow you, but a keen sense of timing and “what fits where” makes the solos all the more important. The solos have a very vintage feel, as does the rest of the album.
The vocals are definitely the stand-out of the album. In discussions with friends, I always relate the singer’s voice to that of an un-drugged, less whiney Ozzy Osbourne. His voice is definitely more dynamic than that of the Ozzman. Although the lyrics seem a bit rushed and childish, the vocalist manages to perform a stellar demonstration of prime seventies Classic Rock vocals. To give a little better description, the vocals are clean and unpolished. Unlike other doom bands, the vocalist does not permeate an air of melancholy or despair, but more of a slower style fun-loving Rock and Roll. It’s definitely worth a listen, if for the vocals alone.
The music ranges from a slow-tempo, with acoustic LED ZEPPELIN sounding passages (think “Stairway”), to a more upbeat tempo sound of STEPPENWOLF (think “Magic Carpet Ride”). Although I keep likening this band to seventies “Rock” bands, the music is still decidedly Metal. The general feeling of the music, the way it’s played, and the aura surrounding this release, is Metal. Although it is not your typical Doom band, ala TROUBLE or SAINT VITUS, it is definitely Doom Metal, to a lesser extent. If SABBATH are the fathers of Doom, then WITCHCRAFT are definitely the grandchildren.
There are flaws in this album. The music, at times, is played rather sloppily, but it adds to vintage feeling of the release, so I guess it’s not really a flaw. Maybe the drums could be done with a little more flair, but I’m not sure if that would take away from the feeling of the release or not. The guitars are perfect on this release, and the vocals are also stellar. I guess the biggest flaw is in the lyrical department. With more work on the lyrics, this album could go from great to timeless. Many people don’t look too deeply into the lyrics; so a flaw to some, and a minor qualm to others. For an example, look at “If Wishes Were Horses”.
This release is just outstanding. If it wasn’t for the liner notes, I would have no idea that this was released in 2005. This album has everything a fan of early SABBATH would enjoy. To me, this album just blows away most of SABBATH’s releases: maybe the close to thirty year gap in time allowed for perfection. I must highly recommend this album to fans of Doom Metal, especially the classic SABBATH-esque brand. Also, any closet Classic Rock fans check this out! A great album by an excellent band, which I hope we haven’t heard the last of. “Firewood” is most likely destined to become an “essential” release.
(Online July 5, 2012)