WITCHCRAFT has been on the cutting edge of that interesting nexus between occult rock and traditional doom since the release of their eponymous 2004 debut. Numerous musicians have been in and out of the Swedish act's revolving door since its inception 20 years ago, with one constant figure remaining throughout: Magnus Pelander, previously a member of the similarly styled nineties act NORRSKEN a precursor to GRAVEYARD. Interestingly enough, the vocalist and guitarist is the only band member left. Pundits may ponder and pontificate about the circumstances that led WITCHCRAFT to this point, but the one thing that is obvious and undeniable is that Pelander remains devoted to the project to such an extent that he chose to release the album under its moniker rather than as a solo release. The bottom line is that Pelander and WITCHCRAFT have been reliably impressive, and now that the two have essentially become one and the same, "Black Metal" continues to maintain that high standard, for the most part, that occult rock fans have come to expect of the project.
WITCHCRAFT was originally born from Pelander's passion for the work of Roky Erickson and PENTAGRAM's Bobby Liebling, and the Swedes found a perfect first home with Lee Dorian's label, Rise Above. They would go on to establish their current relationship with Nuclear Blast Records, during which time their approach remained consistent while the sound became beefier. But Pelander's latest effort shifts WITCHCRAFT's focus 180 degrees. "Black Metal" is indeed a misnomer, a tongue-in-cheek title, to be sure. Unlike what the title suggests, the album has more in common with the depressive folk of Elliott Smith than any kind of corpse-painted, screeching cacophony.
What's more, "Black Metal" is an acoustic release through and through. There are no electric guitars, no booming bass, no crashing drums. The album is "Pelander's awe-inspiring voice and acoustic guitar, and there is just a brief splash of delicate piano on "Sad Dog". In spite of Pelander's use of the WITCHCRAFT moniker here, "Black Metal" truly is a solo endeavor. At any rate, the choice to sidestep any amplification is quite surprising, but it works. "Black Metal" reveals Pelander at his most vulnerable, and the song titles are quite telling. The opener, "Elegantly Expressed Depression", is exactly that. Considering there are tracks titled "Sad People" and "Sad Dog", the theme is obvious, and the performance is convincing.
We have become accustomed to massive distortion and crunching doom in the realm of WITCHCRAFT. But with all of the trappings of doom metal stripped away, there is an even more pronounced sense of doom 'n' gloom found within Pelander's tortured voice, which is matched by the way that he softly plucks his acoustic guitar. "Black Metal" is haunting and beautiful, but it does become monotonous. The release might be void of WITCHCRAFT's characteristic blend of occult-flavored doom and classic seventies rock, yet fans of Pelander's haunting voice and morose songwriting are likely to find "Black Metal" worth listening to — a few times, anyway.