Posted in Reviews on October 3rd, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster
It makes a weird kind of sense. It’s been five years since Witchcraft released their third album, The Alchemist, and the long-awaited follow-up — dubbed Legend– finds them making their debut on Nuclear Blast and finds guitarist/vocalist Magnus Pelander surrounded by an almost entirely different band. Now a double-guitar five-piece, Witchcraft‘s Legendmarks the first appearances of guitarists Simon Solomon and Tom Jondelius and drummer Oscar Johansson (aka Pezo of Truckfighters). So with just Pelander and bassist Ola Henriksson returning, why not reinvent Witchcraft‘s sound at the beginning of this new era?
Perhaps that’s not fair. A lot can happen over five years, and I doubt it’s as simple or as calculated as that. Nonetheless, Pelander — who’s always been the central figure songwriting-wise — has overseen a recasting of aesthetic to match the recasting of the lineup, and the tonal fullness and modernity of Legend opener “Deconstruction” has more in common with Scorpions than Pentagram, who were the core influence across 2004′s landmark self-titled debut and 2005′s follow-up, Firewood. Immediately, Witchcraft are different. They’ve shirked off most of the vintage stylization that marked their previous work and boldly opted for something new.
And whether it’s good or bad, that right away makes Legend the most fascinatingWitchcraft record since the first one. The last five years and the rise of countrymen act Graveyard (who share a lineage with Pelander going back to the days of the obscure but pioneering outfit Norrsken) have led to an entire crop of bands in and around Sweden caked in a retro style defined in part by Witchcraft, so for the band to come back now and even expand on the more progressive elements of The Alchemistwhile keeping the same retro mindset — well, it would’ve been expected, if nothing else.
But Legendisn’t what you’d expect if you’ve followed Witchcraft before. Its distortion is modern and heavy, its production is crisp, and one need only to look at tracks like “An Alternative to Freedom,” “White Light Suicide,” “Democracy” and “Dystopia” to get a sense of an emergent sociopolitical viewpoint in the music. Some of the old Witchcraft methods are there — Pelander‘s vocals on the well-chosen single “It’s Not Because of You” hint at prior glories, and though it starts out with a riff nearer to country rock, “An Alternative to Freedom” settles into a creeping guitar line of a style present throughout the back catalog — but the slide in that song, the clap-ready swagger in “White Light Suicide,” the screaming lead in “Democracy” (not to mention the “fuck your heroes/fuck your icons” lyrics) and the darker heaviness of 12-minute closer “Dead End” are a long, long way from the humble, blown-out proto-metal melodies of old.
Songwriting remains consistent, however. Pelander isn’t quite a master of this form — they’re not Dixie Witch… yet — but he does well nonetheless in crafting memorable tracks, and the performances of Henriksson and the new members of the band prove suited to the surge in centerpiece “Ghosts House” or the moodier vibe of the penultimate “Dystopia.” And it’s actually Pelander‘s lack of mastery here that makes Legendso intriguing, because where it’s pretty easy to argue Witchcraft had their shit down pat as regards retro rocking, this is new ground. It’s interesting to think of Witchcraft as a band 12 years on, purposefully making themselves less comfortable in their process. And admirable.
And who knows, maybe Witchcraft‘s example will once more serve for others to follow. I can’t think of another act who’ve successfully navigated themselves out of a retro style, so perhaps the boldness Witchcraft show on Legendwill bleed into others tired of their tube amps and tape machines. It’s entirely possible that Witchcraft‘s fourth will make their most resonant impact yet, and even if it’s probably not what I’ll reach for every time — I don’t think anything could replace the first album in my mind — these are quality songs that mark a new beginning for the band and the more I hear them, the more I see their appeal, both conceptually and in practice. The change is going to be a lot for some to swallow, but for the potential Legendpresents, Witchcraft may yet come out on top in deliberately working against what they once were.
We’re more than halfway through 2012, and we’ve already seen great releases from the likes of Orange Goblin, Pallbearer, Conan, C.O.C., Saint Vitus and many others, but there’s still a long way to go. The forecast for the next five months? Busy.
In my eternal and inevitably doomed quest to keep up, I’ve compiled a list of 13 still-to-come releases not to miss before the year ends. Some of this information is confirmed — as confirmed as these things ever are, anyway — either by label or band announcements, and some of it is a little bit vaguer in terms of the actual dates, but all this stuff is slated to be out before 2013 hits. That was basically my only criteria for inclusion.
And of course before I start the list, you should know two things: The ordering is dubious, since it’s not like I can judge the quality of an album before I’ve heard it, just my anticipation, and that this is barely the beginning of everything that will be released before the end of 2012. The tip of the fastly-melting iceberg, as it were. If past is prologue, there’s a ton of shit I don’t even know about that (hopefully) you’ll clue me into in the comments.
Nonetheless, let’s have some fun:
1. Colour Haze, She Said(Sept./Oct.)
I know, I know, this one’s been a really, really long time coming. Like two years. Like so long that Colour Haze had to go back and remake the album because of some terrible technical thing that I don’t even know what happened but it doesn’t matter anymore. Notice came down yesterday from guitarist/vocalist Stefan Koglek that the recording is done and the long-awaited She Saidis on the way to be pressed on vinyl and CD. Got my fingers crossed for no more snags.
2. Enslaved, RIITIIR (Sept. 28)
The progressive Norwegian black metallers have put out 10 albums before it, and would you believe RIITIIRis the first Enslaved album that’s a palindrome? Kind of cheating to include it on this list, because I’ve heard it, but I’ve been through the record 10-plus times and I still feel like I just barely have a grasp on where they’re headed with it, so I think it’ll be really interesting to see what kind of response it gets upon release. Herbrand Larsen kills it all over these songs though, I will say that.
3. Mos Generator, Nomads(Oct. 23)
Hard for me not to be stoked on the prospect of the first new Mos Generator album since 2007, especially looking at that cover, which RippleMusic unveiled on Tuesday when it announced the Oct. 23 release date. It’s pretty grim looking, and even though Mos once put out a record called The Late Great Planet Earth, I’ve never thought of them as being particularly dark or doomed. I look forward to hearing what Tony Reed (Stone Axe, HeavyPink) has up his sleeve for this collection, and if he’s looking to slow down and doom out a bit here, that’s cool too. I’ll take it either way.
4. Ufomammut, Oro – Opus Alter(Sept.)
No, that’s not the cover of Oro – Opus Alter, the second half of Italian space doom grand masters Ufomammut‘s Oro collection — the first being Opus Primum (review here), which served as their Neurot Recordings debut earlier this year. That cover hasn’t been released yet, so I grabbed a promo pic to stand in. I’m really looking forward to this album, though I hope they don’t go the Earth, Angels of Darkness Demons of Lightroute and wind up with two records that, while really good, essentially serve the same purpose. I’ve got my hopes high they can outdo themselves once again.
5. Witchcraft, Legend(Sept. 21)
I guess after their success with Graveyard, Nuclear Blast decided to binge a bit on ’70s loyalist doom, signing Witchcraft and even more recently, Orchid. Can’t fault them that. It’s been half a decade since Witchcraft released The Alchemist and in their absence, doom has caught on in a big way to their methods. With a new lineup around him, will Magnus Pelander continue his divergence into classic progressive rock, or return to the Pentagram-style roots of Witchcraft‘s earliest work? Should be exciting to find out.
6. Wo Fat, The Black Code(Nov.)
After having the chance to hear some rough mixes of Texas fuzzers Wo Fat‘s Small Stone debut, The Black Code, I’m all the more stoked to encounter the finished product, and glad to see the band join the ranks of Lo-Pan, Freedom Hawk and Gozu in heralding the next wave of American fuzz. Wo Fat‘s 2011 third outing, Noche del Chupacabra (review here), greatly expanded the jammed feel in their approach, and I get the sense they’re just beginning to find where they want to end up within that balance.
7. Blood of the Sun, Burning on the Wings of Desire(Late 2012)
As if the glittering logo and booby-lady cover art weren’t enough to grab attention, Blood of the Sun‘s first album for Listenable Records (fourth overall) is sure to garner some extra notice because the band is led by drummer/vocalist Henry Vasquez, better known over the past couple years as the basher for Saint Vitus. Whatever pedigree the band has assumed through that, though, their modern take on classic ’70s heavy has a charm all its own and I can’t wait to hear how Burning on the Wings of Desire pushes that forward. Or backward. Whatever. Rock and roll.
8. Swans, The Seer(Aug. 28)
This one came in the mail last week and I’ve had the chance to make my way through it only once. It’s two discs — and not by a little — and as was the case with Swans‘ 2010 comebacker, My Father Will Guide Me up a Rope to the Sky(review here), the far less cumbersomely titled The Seeris loaded with guest contributions. Even Jarboe shows up this time around, doing that breathy panting thing she does. Unnerving and challenging as ever, Swans continue to be a litmus for how far experimentalism can go. 3o years on, that’s pretty impressive in itself.
9. Swallow the Sun, Emerald Forest and the Blackbird(Sept. 4)
Apparently the Finnish melo-doom collective’s fifth album, Emerald Forest and the Blackbird, came out earlier this year in Europe, but it’s finally getting an American release in September, and as I’ve always dug the band’s blend of death metal and mournful melodicism, I thought I’d include it here. Like Swans, I’ve heard the Swallow the Sun once through, and it seems to play up more of the quiet, weepy side of their sound, but I look forward to getting to know it better over the coming months.
10. My Sleeping Karma, Soma (Oct. 9)
Just signed to Napalm Records and tapped to open for labelmates Monster Magnet as they tour Europe performing Spine of Godin its entirety this fall, the German four-piece are set to follow-up 2010′s Tri(review here) with Soma. Details were sketchy, of course, until about five minutes after this post initially went up, then the worldwide release dates, cover art and tracklist were revealed, so I updated. Find all that info on the forum.
11.Eagle Twin, The Feather Tipped the Serpent’s Scale(Aug. 28)
Way back in 2009 when I interviewed Eagle Twin guitarist/vocalist Gentry Densley about the band’s Southern Lord debut, he said the band’s next outing would relate to snakes, and if the cover is anything to go by, that seems to have come to fruition on The Feather Tipped the Serpent’s Scale, which is set to release at the end of next month. As the first album was kind of a mash of influences turned into cohesive and contemplative heavy drone, I can’t help but wonder what’s in store this time around.
12. Hooded Menace, Effigies of Evil(Sept. 11)
You know how sometimes you listen to a band and that band turns you on in their liner notes to a ton of other cool bands? I had that experience with Finnish extreme doomers Hooded Menace‘s 2010 second album, Never Cross the Dead (review here), except instead of bands it was hotties of ’70s horror cinema. Needless to say, I anxiously await the arrival of their third record and Relapse debut, Effigies of Evil. Someone needs to start a label and call it Hammer Productions just to sign this band.
13. Yawning Man, New Album (Soon)
Make no mistake. The prospect of a new Yawning Man album would arrive much higher on this list if I was more convinced it was going to come together in time for a 2012 release. As it is, Scrit on the forum has had a steady stream of updates since May about the record — the latest news being that it’s going to be a double album — and Scrit‘s in the know, so I’ll take his word. One thing we do know for sure is that the band in the picture above is not the current Yawning Man lineup. Alfredo Hernandez and Mario Lalli out, Greg Saenz and Billy Cordell in. Bummer about the tumult, but as long as it’s Gary Arce‘s ethereal guitar noodling, I’m hooked one way or another.
Since we closed with rampant speculation, let me not forget that somewhere out there is the looming specter of a new Neurosis album, which the sooner it gets here, the better. Perhaps also a new Clutch full-length, though I doubt that’ll materialize before 2013. And that’s a different list entirely.
Thanks for reading. Anything I forgot or anything you’d like to add to the list, leave a comment.