REVIEW: WITCHCRAFT – “Nucleus”
Swedish classic/doom metal rockers Witchcraft have announced the release of their new album ‘Nucleus’ for January 15, 2016 via Nuclear Blast. The follow up to 2012’s ‘Legend’ has already got fans excited as the first single, “The Outcast,” has already been released to positive feedback. But a good single doesn’t always make for a great album, and ‘Nucleus’ is unfortunately a case in point.
Even for a band that sits on the edge of being dubbed “doom-metal”, the album’s brooding opening tracks are almost too much to bear. Opening track “Maelstrom” pushes toward the nine-minute mark, doing so amidst unpleasant tones, moody vocals, where even the technique is painful at times. This could very well have been intentional, but that does not necessarily mean it works, and here, it’s not all it could have been. Similar things can be said for the follow-up track “Theory of Consequence”. However, there is more life to be found in this track, but unfortunately this never truly gets explored or fulfilled as the track ends abruptly after two and and a half minutes.
“The Outcast” is certainly a good choice in single, and is by far the best track on the album, with the band sounding like they’ve just woken up from a deep, deep sleep. It carries the energy of Sabbath and the grooving guitar of Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page (flutes included) with some pretty impressive soloing too. ‘Nucleus’ gets what it has been missing with this single, which also serves to highlight what could have been.
Title track “Nucleus” however does the album no favours, nor does it do it any harm: it just sits there. Vocalist Magnus Pelander sings, “Reclaim the status of the blind, reinvent the doors of perception” and you feel these words are supposed to be powerful and carry some weight, but his delivery fails them. A midsection of folklore harmonies and guitar soloing, all of which seemed to both invite themseves and overstay their welcome, sway between different variations of how it can be layered for all eight of the fourteen minutes this song goes on too long for.
“An Exorcism of Doubts” is a pared-back blues track held together by bassist Tobias Anger and drummer Rage Widernerg, until it takes off on another wild tangent before bringing itself back to its final notes. Finding itself back to those bluesy verses, it ends strong by ending as it began. “The Obsessed” similarly follows “The Outcast” as a more groovy, uptempo number, but lacks the same execution as the single. Heavy Sabbath influences become apparent once again as it fluctuates between slow “Iron Man”-like riffing and back again.
The production problems on ‘Nucleus’ are highlighted on “To Transcend Bitterness” once the drum intro begins. It is no surprise to learn that vocalist Pelander took the lead on production, as the drums and bass sound as if they were roughly engineered, while the guitars and vocals appear to have been given more attention. In fact, each recording sounds as if it were recorded studio live outside guitar and vocals, with occasional layering of percussive instruments and vocals following afterwards. The effect is less than it could have been. The songwriting too is very much of the same: neither standing out or falling flat, but simply remaining entirely monotone.
As the album approaches its close, “Helpless” serves as one of the more interesting tracks musically, particularly on guitar. It may be pure filler, but it is good filler. The fuzzed guitar-playing leading the track out could have been avoided though, since it leaves the impression of a really bad end to a pretty good movie, tainted by its final scene.
“Forcing myself to listen carefully” are the lyrics sung in album closer “Breakdown”, and upon doing just that, it appears not to matter how closely you listen. There is not much to be found here outside of what appears to be a pedestal Pelander has made for himself to stand on. Once again, we find the guitar and vocals dominant in the final mix, trying to be interesting. As brooding a closer as the opening track was before it, it is as unpleasant a departure to ‘Nucleus’ as “Maelstrom” was an introduction. It is a departure that lasts over a quarter of an hour and feels far, far longer.
Described as “a combination of the rawer side of older recordings as well as the slightly modern path of the younger past”, ‘Nucleus’ sounds far more interesting than it actually is. There is nothing wrong with long epics or short powerhouses, provided they are done right. Longer tracks not only serve as a credit to good songwriters, but also make for an excellent asset live; short powerhouses were the basis for an entire genre, and they served it well! But neither of these beloved styles of songwriting are delivered right or with any life or conviction in this record. What’s found instead is a rhythm section with low production value and a playing field for some questionable experimenting, leaving the impression of an album guided by one man’s preferences as opposed to a whole band’s vision.