When I first got acquainted with WITCHCRAFT’s art back in 2009 –meaning their debut in particular-, it’s no exaggeration to say that a whole new musical world’s gates opened before my eyes. Besides the masterful songwriting, the naturalistic aura of their sound and Pelander’s angelic voice, the realization that they were of this era made the experience even more shocking. Truly, they positioned themselves as kings of the vintage rock revival movement and a source of influence for numerous bands, that I’d grow to love, in the future. ,What established them as a band to lose my mind for, specifically, was the consistency and ease with which they continued to craft songs that would shock me, as portrayed in “Legend” or the otherworldly odyssey of feeling that is Magnus Pelander’s personal EP; instant classic tunes which evoked the same emotion, of that when I first heard LED ZEPPELIN, like a key fitting the lock of my artistic core, leaving me wondering “where has this all been all of my life?”.
A part of this genius can be experienced on the first four songs of “Nucleus” and above all, on the majestically wonderful six minutes that is “The Outcast”. Three minutes in and it already feels as one of the greatest songs of 2016, with the subtle folk element of the flute dancing behind the most beautiful veil of riffs, with a heartfelt chorus and an excellent solo as the cherry on top of the cake; and then that riff comes! And Pelander’s breathtaking vocal lines bringing a piece of heaven down to earth and into our weary souls. Suddenly, the “Alternative to Freedom” chills have returned (perhaps because of his abstract society oriented lyrics as well).
I could write books about this man’s voice and it still would not be enough; his whole performance on the self titled fourteen minute opus, the operatic passages and wails on the last four minutes while the acoustic guitar builds a grandiose feeling from the middle section of the song. It feels like a lost CAROL OF HEARVEST song and it makes me wonder, whether Magnus’ name would exist next to the classic Hall Of Fame monsters, had he lived in the 60s or 70s. The controlled anger, the slight melancholy, the feeling of grandeur in his voice and music so beautiful it feels me with happiness (as also portrayed in “Maelstrom” and “Theory of Consequence”) is all there, at least for some time. For half an hour, Pelander’s vision of WITCHCRAFT is unfolded in glory.
After that point though, the raging fire WITCHCRAFT have lighted suddenly dies out. The album takes a turn onto a more doom inspired, one-dimensional path in which, as hard as I try, I can’t find any great value. The innovation, inside the songs -those unexpected and gorgeous twists and turns that we’ve grown to love, exist on a lower scale, along with the enthusiasm they bring. Although, there are glimmers of hope for insightful songwriting, like “Helpless”, those get lost as well in a whirlpool of hard hitting, yet dull and bleak riffs. It sounds quite more lifeless and uninspired than WITCHCRAFT have ever shown and it kind of hurts, since a great deal of the recognition they receive, is due to their ability to inject emotion, even on their occasional mediocre moments.
Perhaps some of this has to do with the production as well. WITCHCRAFT, carry on the “retro rock- meets- modern heavy” sound they developed in “Legend”, only this time the modern clean cut factor, carries the most weight, rendering their sound into a bit too polished and impersonal for their standards. Especially, in the way the rhythm section interlocks with the guitars and vocals. This problem might be “masked” by exceptional songwriting as it does on the first four tracks, but it gets more and more painstakingly obvious, as the album progresses.
If the album didn’t span over seventy minutes long, the presence of one or two fillers after the great start, wouldn’t have done so much damage to the final outcome. But with this number of tracks that have so little to offer, “Nucleus” is unacceptable for the WITCHCRAFT standards. WITCHCRAFT, is a band that always tried to find new ways of expression, so I hope their next album will be something that will hit us as hard as their previous releases. Plus, we always have the new Magnus Pelander’s solo project, to look forward to.
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