In 2004, Sweden’s WITCHCRAFT conjured up their self-titled debut and made some waves in the Doom Metal scene. Depending on who you ask, that album was either 1) a piece of hippy Metal-wannabe trash; 2) the arrival of a new wave of genre-defining Doom gods; or 3) an exceptionally solid debut from a refreshing band that showed a lot of future promise. I tend to go with number 3 myself, but no matter where individual fans stood, critics ate the thing up and “Witchcraft” looked poised to become a modern classic. Jump to just a year later and we find the band releasing “Firewood,” a quick release which prompts a lot of questions. Will this album top the self-titled? Is this to be the band’s real masterpiece, where their full talent with shine? And of course, the sceptics will ask…is there any real Metal on this thing?
Well, it’s hard to say whether or not “Firewood” tops the debut. I’d say that they are both about equal – this one has a much cleaner production, especially on the vocals which are now crystal clear and given a sound worthy of Magnus Pelander’s more-than-competent vocals, but overall the music is quite a bit less Doomy. “Firewood” still has a palpable Doom atmosphere, but the songs are generally more upbeat, less heavy and more Rock and Roll influenced. There are still great Iommi-esque riffs and solos, as well as a number of acoustic interjections (“Mr. Haze”) and even some progressive sections (the flute in “Sorrow Evoker”). The album ends with a hidden track, a cover of PENTAGRAM’s “When The Screams Come,” which doesn’t match or better the original but surely does it justice.
To turn to the sceptics’ question, an inquiry which plagued the first album as well: is this Metal? Well, if you thought that the first one was borderline, this one is even less so. Though WITCHCRAFT practically worships at the altar of BLACK SABBATH and PENTAGRAM, they draw a lot of influences from the late 60’s as well and they make no effort at all to hide it. For the most part, the guitars here are lighter than on the first offering; there’s no big, fuzzed-out distortion tacked onto the guitar, making for an almost clean sound. If you cranked the distortion way up, however, this would be a Doom album to the core – just listen to “Queen Of Bees”! I would say, yes, WITCHCRAFT are Metal, but Metal that sounds like the Metal that existed before Metal really even existed.
Blah blah blah. Genres aside, I was hooked on “Firewood” after hearing Magnus’ delivery of the line “Dear Mother and Father, I didn’t ask to be born…” in the opener, “Chylde Of Fire.” Yeah, that quick. Extreme Metalheads and purists aren’t going to like this anymore than the debut, they may even like it a little less, but anyone looking for a breath of fresh air, ironic given the retro sound here, needs to give this a listen. The band’s website doesn’t have mp3s for download, but through Flash you can listen to “Chylde Of Fire,” “If Wishes Were Horses” and “Sorrow Evoker,” so go now! Lots of promise from this young band! (Online November 11, 2005)