The best way to understand Witchcraft is to listen to "Remembered," one of the seven meaty tracks on the Swedish group's latest release, The Alchemist. In just over five minutes, the quartet moves from happy-go-lucky hoedown to sludgy metal to Disraeli Gears-era Cream. While Witchcraft is frequently associated with the Black Sabbath-worshipping doom legions, "Remembered" — along with the disc's epic fourteen-minute title track — demonstrates the band's eclectic influences, dynamic range and compositional complexity.
Vocalist and guitarist Magnus Pelander was originally inspired by the molasses-thick metal of Pentagram and the electroshock-addled psychedelia of Roky Erickson's 13th Floor Elevators, and it shows. The Alchemist, recorded using only analog equipment and vintage amplifiers, sounds like a heavy-rock time capsule from 1970. But sprinklings of folk, gonzo experimentalism and progressive ambition — along with a firm grip on grooves and melodies — make Witchcraft far more than a tribute band. Pelander was kind enough to pause during the outfit's second U.S. tour to discuss obsessions, perfectionism and wooden flutes.
Westword: Your music seems largely inspired by bands that hit their peaks before you were born. How did you become interested in this kind of music?
Magnus Pelander: When I was a teenager, I was listening to Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin and all that shit, and I realized there had to be more. I started digging through record fairs and reading a lot about music. And that's how I found out about the progressive and the folk and the heavy stuff. Honestly, it became kind of an obsession.
That obsession seems to extend to your choice of recording equipment. Are you completely opposed to digital and modern recording techniques?
Not necessarily. Our personal identification as musicians is back to the roots, the '60s and '70s. It's very simple and not contrived. But no matter what gear we're using, you'll hear that sound anyway. The old analog stuff just enhances what we're doing.
Do you spend a lot of time polishing the sound of your records?
Actually, this one was really quick, and we're really happy with it. Recording quickly isn't really my philosophy — I'm kind of a perfectionist — but it's the record company's philosophy.
"Remembered" includes an uncharacteristically goofy opening riff and a surprising sax solo. Why?
I say, "Why not?" I don't think there should be any boundaries or limitations. Instead of having a guitar solo, we just decided to throw in a sax. We do that. Sometimes we even have wooden flutes.
There is a dark, heavy and dramatic vibe to most of Witchcraft's music. As a songwriter, do you ever get the urge to do something poppy?
I've actually got this solo thing coming up next year. Some of the songs might be more poppy. I like real songs, if you know what I mean. In that respect, actually, the new album is a bit poppy — at least for Witchcraft.
Do the connotations of your band's name ever get you into trouble?
I've met random people who question the band's name. They say, "You seem like a nice guy. Why such a bad band name?" But these are really religious people, and they just piss me off.