You can’t help but wonder if Witchcraft were having a little joke at the expense of the “kvlt” purists when they called their new acoustic album Black Metal. That’s not to say that the music on their sixth record is light-hearted in any way. Black Metal seems intent on proving that heaviness isn’t just about amplifiers and distortion.
The band’s previous album, Nucleus, was sonically the heaviest thing the band have released to date, incorporating Candlemass-style metallic riffing into their brand of psych and prog-influenced doom rock. Following that album, band-leader Magnus Pelander released his solo debut, Time, which showcased a warm pastoral folk-rock sound, mixing together the gentler elements of bands like Jethro Tull and Circulus.
On first listen you might think Black Metal is picking up where Time left off, but it’s actually a very different beast. Stripping everything back to just Pelander and an acoustic guitar, the sparseness of the music evokes a sense of gloomy isolation that is the very essence of doom. ‘Elegantly Expressed Depression’ may be another tongue-in-cheek title, but the song is a deeply haunting tale of loss made up of a simple riff and that trademark voice. ‘Free Country’ adds in elements of rough americana that recalls Bill Callahan or Bonnie Prince Billy, and the wonderfully titled ‘Sad Dog’ is like a more downbeat version of one of Led Zeppelin’s quieter moments.
The real centrepiece of the album though is the seven-minute ‘Grow’. Built on spidery guitar-work and half whispered/half wailed vocals, the song feels like something you might hear in the opening credits of some lost piece of 70’s folk-horror.
Not everything on the album works. The brief ‘A Boy And A Girl’ could be mistaken for an outtake from one of Devendra Banhart’s early albums, and while Pelander is a superb vocalist, his lyrics can be a little overwrought at times.
Doubtless they’ll be some fans who pine for the Pentagram-meets-Roky Erikson guitar fuzz of the band’s earlier work, but this album will appeal to people who know that doom isn’t so much a sound as a state of mind.
Black Metal is out 1st May on Nuclear Blast. Order here.
Words: Dan Cadwallader