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Witchcraft | ‘Nucleus’

You’ve got to wonder whether Magnus Pelander feels a little hard done by these days.

10 or so years ago Witchcraft were bestowed with the dreaded crown of thorns that is the Next Big Thing.

They received widespread plaudits from both within and outside the metal community.

Since then, they’ve been surpassed in popularity by other, dare I say, less deserving members of the retro-crowd.

It seems you can’t move nowadays for bands conjuring up the sounds of The seventies naming themselves after Roky Erickson songs and referring to their live shows as ‘rituals’.

At times, it feels like putting out an occult rock or whatever you want to call it is about as fresh as bringing out a standard bay area thrash album in the early 1990s.

It’s to the band’s credit that they’ve avoided the worst aspects of this movement and forged ahead with something that is undoubtedly a worthy addition to their back catalogue.

More Metal

I’m familiar with the band’s first three records, but lost track of them in the lengthy gap between The ‘Alchemist’ and ‘Legend’ (which I’m yet to hear).

What’s noticeable about Nucleus is it feels like there was a concerted effort to get heavier in both production and musically and I don’t feel like this is entirely for the better.

The second track, ‘Theory of Consequences’, sounds like there’s been a Boss HM-2 used on some of the guitar tracks; it’s hardly in Swe-death territory, but it’s far grainier and more dense then anything I’ve heard from them in the past.

Iommi-esque trills abound on this one but it doesn’t seem to all come together into a memorable track like when the band try their hand at more whimsical and poppier numbers such as The Outcast.

Not surprisingly, there’s something of a folk flavour to be found on Nucleus and this is in keeping with the slighty pastoral vibe that has been prevalent throughout their career.

It’s done well, with a sense of pace and a nice slow burning atmosphere but can’t leave me feeling that Witchcraft are a far better band when they are trying to be a rock band rather than a metal one.

That’s not to say that the more outright-doomy songs on here are bad, the band are talented enough to make something out of the weaker tracks and Magnus is in fine voice throughout but I can’t help but feel the heavier numbers are held by something.

But Still Retro

Despite the slightly heavier tone here, it’s worth noting that it’s still a very retro offering. Doom metal is often lazily dismissed as retro music, but I feel that this is a fairly recent development.

The initial crop of 80s doom bands, for all that they were dubbed as ‘throwbacks’ were capable of producing some thoroughly contemporary music, just listen to Trouble’s Judas Priest worshipping guitar harmonies and almost thrashy sections and Saint Vitus’s punk influence for but two examples.

There’s nothing on here that couldn’t be from 1974 and whether that’s a good thing for you is all down to personal preference. Despair not guys with flairs, Witchcraft hasn’t gone all modern on you just yet!

Another aspect that works in the album’s favour is that there’s very little to be found in the way of pseudo-occult gimmickry or cheap peons to Hammer Horror or what-have you throughout the album.

Indeed, we have to wait until the last track until there are any film samples much used by Electric Wizard and Impetigo, but let’s stick with the Electric Wizard comparision shall we? Although, I am reviewing a digital copy here so there may well be a shot of a witch in a graveyard in the inner sleeve.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Blood on Satan’s Claw and the like as much as the next horror aficionado but there’s been too much lazy cobbling of various doom clichés as of late and it’s something which is thankfully avoided here.

What’s more Pelander and company are genuinely interested in writing songs rather than piecing together two different Sabbath songs and summarising the plot of a Dennis Wheatley novel in the lyrics. And this is again to their credit.

To be honest with you, I really wasn’t expecting much from ‘Nucleus’ but I’m sure fans of their previous output will find much to enjoy.

And even folks who were never entirely sold on the group will find something to commend them on. It’s a honest and solid album but more flute and less 15 minute doom jams next time.

3/5 – Tom Andrew ::: 20/1/16

  1. Less doom jams?? Hang your head in shame sir!!! 😛

    However, I am liking the track… But not expecting much from the release as this definitely sounds like it could be a b-side off The Alchemist.
    It shall be purchased. Listened too and probably easily forgotten like most of their output.

  2. Hahaha, the emphasis should be on the doom and not on the jams!

  3. wobblechops Says:

    There was such a buzz about these after that first album but I found it very hard to be excited by anything they have put out subsequently. Hard to make it the whole way through a full length even…

  4. GaryFreakFlag Says:

    “Legend” was quite a departure from the 1st three LPs in every way possible. Song writing was less obviously Roky / Pentagram influenced while production now had a sheen to it and because of this they lost a lot of the subtlety and that drew me in originally. I wouldn’t say I hated “Legend” but it was certainly a let down from what I was hoping for. Apart from Pelander (and band name) the whole album and line-up was largely unrecognisable as Witchcraft.

    Turns out “Legend” is a grower and it’s now my go-to Witchcraft LP any time the notion arises.

    I got over the line-up changes (they expanded to a 5-piece – Pelander concentrating on vocals which pays off massively for him – new drummer and two new guitarists). The non-vintage style production no longer bothered me after repeated listens. Still, live footage from this line-up is difficult to watch with a very weird and awkward looking guitar-less Pelander.

    Having adjusted to the change in direction and mood I was very much looking forward to “Nucleus” even after reading Pelander ditched the entire line-up of the previous album. Witchcraft is now a 3-piece with Pelander solely on Vocals/Guitar and a new rhythm section. Fuck sake lad!

    Lead single “The Outcast” is a cracker. I get what Sean says above about it sounding like the Alchemist and it does. Don’t know about a b-side though ;). The production on this song at least is a tad less modern and all the better for it too.

    Onto the album then. Love the artwork and the spotUV sleeve on the gatefold is a cool touch. We get a longer version of “The Outcast” and Pelander’s voice throughout is at it’s best and even pushes on further still. It seems I’ve underestimated Pelander’s guitar playing skills too.

    Sadly, for me, that’s as good as it gets. It’s a Double LP and it certainly feels it. I can’t imagine sitting through one long uninterrupted CD play of this. The songs are longer than there is any need for, jams seemingly without a pay off while some section changes just seem stuck on edited afterthoughts.

    There’s a lot of fat that could’ve been trimmed off this record and some (cheap – not in a good way) questionable guitar tones in places. Again, it’s Pelander’s voice that holds my interest the most but there’s just too much guff to get through. It’s an exhausting listen for sure.

    Unlike “Legend”, I feel that “Nucleus” in all probability won’t be a grower. There’s just no inclination or enough of a hook to warrant repeated listens (and I’ve given it plenty of spins since last week).

    Nice cover though and I’d wonder how a 3-piece would handle this live.

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