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.
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