Witchcraft – [Live]

Monday, 06 October 2008

There is something about gigantic, fuzzy riffs—riffs so big that you could land a DC-10 on them and so solid you could build the Freedom Tower on them. They make men dress in denim and tease their hair out. They make heartbreakingly beautiful girls with headbands and sleeve tattoos hang out with overweight, sweaty men who who can't stop dancing into everyone around them. All for the chance to share a moment of perfect riffage.

On a recent weekday in New York, discriminating riff-seekers found themselves at the Mercury Lounge to hear Sweden's Witchcraft. In their near-religious focus on fuzzed out guitars and vaguely apocalyptic lyrics sung with a heavy accent, Witchcraft call to mind early '70s space and hard rock pioneers—UFO, Black Sabbath, Atomic Rooster, and most specifically Pentagram and Roky Erikson. In fact, Witchcraft was conceived in 2000 by guitarist and singer Magnus Pelander as a one-off project to record a single as a specific tribute to those final two acts. Pelander finished that track, "No Angel or Demon," and was so enamored of his new group that he continued to write songs for it. With some personnel changes, he and guitarist John Hoyles have kept the band going for three albums stretched over the latter half of this decade, most recently 2007's The Alchemist.

In person, it is Hoyles' guitar that is the band's star. Decked out in boots, tight jeans, and a tablecloth-plaid shirt, Hoyles dominates the music with his solos and peanut butter-chunky riffs. He also dominates the stage, mostly by default—he's the only one really doing anything performer-y. Pelander, although the lead singer and the mastermind behind the group, is dressed in a billowy black tee shirt that helps him fade into the background. He doesn't move around much while he plays, and seems sheepish during the few times he tries to engage the audience in some banter. "Is this or is this not New York City?" he asks a few times, in the most polite tone possible. Not exactly "CLEVELAND: ARE YOU READY TO ROCK?!?!!?!" Pelander is the lone tell that these are not actual hard rockers, but some nice European boys who have brought their '70s rock revival art project on tour.

Still, what a project it is. The band blazed through some of their best work—tracks like "Hey Doctor," "No Angel or Demon," and "If Crimson Was Your Color." This is not a metal show that starts at 11, and keeps going for an hour with no variation, getting boring after a few songs. Nor was the band simply standing still, bloodlessly proving how fast they can play. Witchcraft's tracks are dynamic enough to provide the peaks and valleys you need for a truly affecting concert experience.

Witchcraft are not metal headbangers, after all, nor do they aspire to be. They harken back to a time before there was a difference between rock and metal, let alone the thousand sub-genres metal has splintered into over the past few decades (thrash, doom, etc.). Witchcraft make heavy, swirling rock that sometimes smooths out and sometimes kicks this into thrillingly high gear. It's music that goes best with a darkened bedroom and a bong.

Or perhaps it goes best with a room full of drunk and rowdy strangers. An undeniable fellowship of rock developed in the Mercury Lounge that night, as people who usually have to listen to dusty LPs for their hard-rock fix, or watch bands older than their parents hobble around the stage, playing songs older than they are were, for one beautiful night, hearing new material from people their own age, just as excited about this music as they are.

Congratulations, Pilgrims of Riffs. You chose wisely. May you live forever in rock.


“Hey Doctor”from The Alchemist – [mp3]

The Alchemist is out now. Buy it on Amazon.

Related Articles:
Alchemy Review – [Album]
Witchcraft w/Saviours and Danava – [Live]


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