Monday 11 May 2020

Witchcraft - Black Metal (2020)

Country: Sweden
Style: Folk
Rating: 6/10
Release Date: 1 May 2020
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The award for the most misleading album title of the year, if not the whole decade, surely goes to Witchcraft. The same title has proved troublesome for Venom and the genre didn't even exist when they released their album of this name. Magnus Pelander, founder of Witchcraft, ought to know better, because this is as far away from black metal as it is from their traditional sounds of psychedelic doom. I have no idea why it has this title.

So what is it? Well, it's an entirely acoustic album for a start, one that's restricted to voice and guitar (and a very sparse piano on Sad Dog), meaning that it's also apparently a solo effort from Pelander, even though it bears the Witchcraft name. There's no doom, and indeed no metal, to be found here at all, though there is some psychedelia on songs like Elegantly Expressed Depression and a plaintive, melancholy tone.

At heart, it's an introspective piece of musical poetry, a folk album that hearkens back to the sixties. I don't mean folk metal, folk rock or even a sort of neofolk that's an ally to pagan metal. I mean old school, sit on a stool in a folk club and peacefully sing out your soul over your acoustic guitar folk music that some engineer just happened to get down on tape for posterity.

The heart of the album is Grow, the song in its middle and the longest one on offer, and it's built off the same rhythmic use of guitar repetition that Leonard Cohen used to such great effect on his first couple of albums. That mindset is here from moment one and it drives the whole thing. Some songs, like Free Country, lean a little closer to Americana, a hint at blues and a lot more at country or what's become known as singer/songwriter music.

The other obvious aspect to mention is that this is very loose. The closer, Take Him Away, is so loose that it's hardly there, with what seem like more gaps between the notes than there are notes. Other songs are loose vocally, like Jolie Holland on Catalpa, the product of a band not a single artist, but still recorded in a living room like a personal gig. This could easily have been recorded somewhere in Pelander's house, in dim light and without anyone else listening, maybe in one go.

I can't say that I don't like this. It's hard not to like something with a tone that's somehow both depressing and soothing, but it isn't ever going to come off well when compared to a singer/songwriter of the stature of Cohen, even early Cohen when he recorded alone. It's poetry but it isn't poetry at that level of art. I certainly appreciated Pelander's music here more than I did his poetry. The best song is surely Elegantly Expressed Depression and, even there, I found myself caught up by the guitar but treating the vocal as texture.

What's more, these songs aren't ever going to get under my skin. They're not going to change how I think or give me something new to think about. I'm not going wake up one morning with a new grasp of one of these songs because my brain figured something out in my sleep. Those are things that I expect from singer/songwriter music, even if only the best achieve it. I couldn't even ascertain an overall purpose, as this is less an album and more just a bunch of songs.

So, while I enjoyed this and you might too, if any of the above caught your fancy. Just don't expect a Witchcraft album or a black metal album, because this is light years away from either of those things.

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