Okay folks, I have to admit, the editor of this esteemed site put out a review list, and as I skimmed through it after a night shift of overtime I saw the words “Black Metal” and didn’t probe further, immediately, and erroneously putting this album into the category of “not for me thanks!” Fortunately, said editor gave me a prod as to the actual content, and well, let me say “thank you sir” for having done so. This is not a “Black Metal” album, so if you insist on painting your face like a zombie in a cheap Romero knock off movie, or equally insist on gutturally screamed indecipherable lyrics, this is not for you. If, however, you want to listen to an outpouring of heartfelt emotion via the medium of music, read on.
If you are willing to, look back into the archives of Ave Noctum, and you’ll read very favourable reviews for Witchcraft, a Doom band lead by Magnus Pelander. However, very little of that history could prepare you, the reader, or for that matter, me, the fifty-year-old cynical reviewer, for this stripped back release. Gone are down-tuned Gibson SG guitars cranked out through vintage valve powered Marshall amps, thundering bass rigs, or pounding, funereal drum beats. Instead, there is a single dedicated artist with an acoustic guitar and a soul, apparently full of sorrow that needs to burst musically forth.
‘Elegantly Expressed Depression’ is a text book lesson in nominative determinism, Magnus Pelander crooning forth his darkest thoughts whilst a lone guitar is tentatively plucked as a hesitant accompaniment, his voice infusing the plaintive music with tremulous uncertainty. The strangely ambiguous ‘A Boy and A Girl’ follows, offering nothing more than distant confusion, all before the deep darkness of ‘Sad People’ descends from the speakers, a lamenting dirge that could perfectly echo across the vista of a mile wide Spaghetti Western graveyard set, each haltingly plucked note describing a bleak vista of death. If that song were not enough to wrench the soul, ‘Grow’ drones forth like the echoes of a mourner’s tears over a bleak funeral, the oft abused journalistic term of “stripped back” finally deserving the definition it has offered so many times before in this single near eight minute offering of tears. I have heard the work of the massively underrated artist Conny Ochs described as “Folk Doom”, but if ever music deserved that epithet, Witchcraft’s ‘Black Metal’ does. If the introspection of the most intense and minimalistic Country and Western (and no, immediately expunge the gun toting and cousin shagging drivel of the “trucks and ‘Murica” bollocks that typifies, no stereo-typifies, the genre!) tones of ‘Free Country’ or ‘Sad Dog’ do not have you reaching to wipe away an uninvited tear from your eye, well, I don’t know what could move you.
I know a lot of critics now are framing their reviews in terms of the Coronavirus lock down, and I’ve tried to avoid such cliques, but genuinely, ‘Black Metal’ sounds like Magnus Pelander had a gut full of doom to deliver, and isolated from musical compatriots decided the best way to release his internal gloom was via the medium of this album. No, it is not an easy listen: no, it is not an album to have party goers stamping their feet to the beat whilst waving a pint glass in the air; however, yes, it is an album of delicate beauty, a word that this bluff and gruff romping and stomping metal fan is loathe to use.