Hailing from Sweden, Witchcraft is a band that's loved dearly by those who know them and a pleasant surprise for those who don't. They've been around for little over a decade, but didn't gain much notoriety until their 2012 opus Legend. Gaining critical acclaim from metal and rock outlets all over the world and even earning the coveted number four spot on Decibel Magazine's top 40 albums of that year, Legend was a sleeper hit full of incredibly crafted songs that were as heavy as they were catchy. Now, four years later, these Swedish devil children have returned with Nucleus, a much different album than its predecessor, but one no less compelling.
Nucleus sees Witchcraft returning to the doomier roots á la Black Sabbath and Pentagram displayed on their first few albums, namely, their excellent self-titled 2004 debut, but it still retains some of more modern production and songcraft of Legend. In other words, it's great meshing of the two styles, if not a little uneven at times. Part of the reason for this shift in sound is due to the fact that Witchcraft is now a trio. Witchcraft is a band which has, unfortunately, been plagued with many lineup changes throughout their career; however, main songwriter and guitarist/vocalist Magnus Pelander has remained a constant since the band's founding, and the argument stands that Witchcraft really is his brainchild, and therefore, Nucleus is covered with his sonic and stylistic fingerprints. The riffs are still here, as are the solos, the vocal melodies and all the little nuances that make Witchcraft such a special band.
A noticeable difference between Nucleus and Legend is a more traditional doom sound, and in turn, longer song lengths. Four of the album's nine tracks clock in at nearly eight minutes or more, and two of those push the 15-minute mark. The album begins with a somber acoustic lick in "Malstroem" before turning into a old-school doom laden romp that features perhaps one of the heaviest riffs Witchcraft have written. However, in true Witchcraft fashion, the songs takes several unexpected turns, making it a great primer for the rest of the album. Lead single "The Outcast" is most accessible song of the bunch, with it's head-bobbing motif and classic guitar heroics; the solo and interlude on this track are both real highlights of the album. The title track ventures into the aforementioned doom territory, and at 14-minutes long, it has a nice build-up to an almost-anthemic passage before fading away with the somber cry of an accordion.
"An Exorcism of Doubts," whether it was meant to be or not, is an almost direct homage to vintage Sabbath, and it's absolutely fantastic. In contrast, the haunting riffs and atmospheric acoustics of "Helpless" are a bit different for Witchcraft, but definitely worth sticking around for. It's a testament to how Witchcraft can seamlessly blend both the old and the new into a compelling and memorable package of heavy metal bliss. Overall, there's really not a single dud on Nucleus; every track is masterfully written and memorable in its own right, and though the album's closer "Breakdown" feels just a little too drawn out, it's more than forgivable considering the quality of the album as a whole. It does take a few listens to fully grasp what Witchcraft is trying to achieve with Nucleus, but once you get there, you won't be able to put it down. Nucleus is an absolutely top notch album, not to mention one hell of a way to kick off 2016.