“I remember last summer when we started rehearsing for real, it was like we were sixteen again, you know? That feeling you had when you were a kid and played in a band and thought you were gonna get all the girls.”
No discussion of modern doom is complete without a nod to the psychedelic retro jams of Sweden’s Witchcraft. Originally formed in the early days of the new millennium as a tribute to the legendary Pentagram, their approach centers on riffs and hooks above all else. Fronted by Magnus Pelander’s Liebling-esque croon, the band has been slinging their catchy style of heavy rock on stages across the world for the past twelve years. It can easily be argued that they spearheaded the revival of the classic heavy psychedelic sound in modern metal, and countless bands owe them an enormous debt if so.
I was able to chat with Witchcraft’s bassist, Ola Henriksson, on the eve of the release of their newest record, Legend. We talked about the new atmosphere in a band with only two original members, the writing process behind the album, and what’s next for the band in the interview below.
Legend is released on Nuclear Blast, and can be bought at their official website along with several packaged deals. (I recommend the shirt bundled with the double colored vinyl; both look amazing.) Legend is also for sale digitally on iTunes and AmazonMP3, along with their first three albums.
Metal Blast: Although Witchcraft has been a major force in doom metal for more than a decade, you guys are still pretty obscure outside of the scene. How would you describe your music to someone who hasn’t heard you before?
Ola Henriksson: Well, I always say that we play heavy rock. I guess people thought that we played doom metal, but it’s actually kinda weird. I wouldn’t say we play doom metal, because it doesn’t really seem that way to me. I’d say we’re a heavy rock band. I like that term.
MB: I remember reading somewhere that you guys started as a tribute to Pentagram, which is one of my favorite groups ever. So from one fan to another, what would you say your favorite Pentagram album is?
OH: That’s a hard one! I like the old stuff, the ’70s stuff, but if I had to choose an album, I would have to choose Day of Reckoning.
MB: Agreed. So there was a long hiatus between Legend and your earlier album, The Alchemist. You came back with a whole host of new members, and what kind of stuff did the new blood bring to the table?
OH: Well, we have two new guitarists and one new drummer, so they all have their unique style of playing. Oscar [Johansson], the drummer, he’s really creative when it comes to his style of playing. It’s not the basic kind of rock drums, sometimes he goes wild with the toms. He’s dynamic and fun to play with, because you never know what he’s going to do. He’s wild. And the new guitarists? I think you can almost hear who plays what, because I guess Tom [Jondelius] has a more ’70s style, and Simon [Solomon] is a perfectionist guitar player. It’s hard to pinpoint what they bring to the band, because at first they were like “Well, what do you want us to play?” But after a while, [they] settled into their roles in the band. I haven’t really thought of what’s changed, but I guess when we start writing songs together for real you can get the grips on what they’ll bring.
MB: How have they acclimated to the old songs?
OH: We recently – well, not recently, but this spring was the first time we rehearsed the old songs and they…sounded like crap. [laughter] No, they sounded really good! They sound perfect, it’s weird. These guys, they listened to the old albums, and then we rehearsed the songs. And then Magnus [Pelander] and [I] realized that wait, we haven’t played the old songs like they were recorded for like six, seven years! Because when you play them live a thousand times, they develop into something else. So it’s kind of fun to go back and start from the beginning. This is how it was recorded and we’ll play it that way, and then we take it from there. It’s really fun, they’re almost like new songs.
MB: How has the new atmosphere been in general?
OH: It’s all good, it’s like an injection. I remember last summer when we started rehearsing for real, it was like we were sixteen again, you know? That feeling you had when you were a kid and played in a band and thought you were gonna get all the girls.
MB: [laughter] Awesome! And is Magnus just doing vocals now? I noticed he wasn’t credited as a guitarist on the album.
OH: Not exactly. He dropped the guitar when we found two new guitarists. He’s been wanting to do that for quite some time. He played a lot before, he just wanted to drop it and just sing. But I think he plays guitar on the album, on some of the songs, because he can’t entirely let that go. But at the moment, he only sings.
MB: Your sound on Legend is a lot more punchy and immediate than your earlier works. Was there anything that led you to a beefier production style, or was it something that evolved naturally?
Now the thing is that we had one intention, and that was to make this one sound heavier. And especially, I think the drums and bass were somewhat forgotten on the previous albums. Might have been ’cause I wasn’t a part of the mixing, especially on The Alchemist. A lead guitarist and a vocalist are mixing the album and it’s bound to happen. But that was what we wanted, we wanted it to sound heavier than before. And if you look at our albums, the first one was really, really lo-fi. The second one [Firewood] was a bit more hi-fi, but still lo-fi, and The Alchemist was a bit more polished. I think it’s been progressing towards the Legend sound.
MB: What kind of gear did you use on the recording?
OH: I play a Rickenbacker 4001 through an Orange amp.
MB: Classic setup. Nice. Have you gotten a chance to take the new songs on tour yet?
OH: We did five festival gigs this summer, so we played two or three of the new songs live. I think two to start, and we added another on the last gig.
MB: How did they go over? How was the reception?
OH: It was really good! They started cheering even before [we started], ’cause Magnus said we got a new album coming out, and then they realized we were playing some new songs so they were like “YEAAAHHHH” even before the songs! [laughter] It was good.
MB: Always a good sign! Which ones did they seem to enjoy the most?
OH: It’s hard to say ’cause we only played “It’s Not Because of You” and “Democracy.” Those were the two ones we played. Pretty much even result, I think. The first riff in “It’s Not Because of You” is always fun, because it starts – dun dun, da-na-na dun dun – and then you can hear the audience ’cause there’s a bit of silence there, that’s always fun. You can hear the screaming between the notes.
MB: Is that the one you enjoy playing the most? If you had to pick a favorite, which would it be?
To play? It’s hard…I would say I enjoy “Ghosts House,” or…maybe not, when I come to think of it. [laughter] You know what? I would say “Dystopia.” That’s my favorite one on the album.
MB: What stops are you going to be making on tour to support the album?
OH: We will come to the US in March, April, something like that. Before that we’ll tour Europe and Scandinavia.
MB: And I hate to use the word, but are there any kind of special gimmicks that your fans can look forward to when they see you live?
OH: Special gimmicks? Let’s see…Well, we always try to use…well, I don’t want to reveal any of the new stuff! It’s not gonna be anything super-fancy, it’s not gonna be like KISS. [laughter] But it’s gonna be something that suits the music.
MB: And it’s probably far too early to ask, but do you have any plans for some new recorded material in the works – an EP, a split, something like that?
OH: There’s a lot of ideas. We have a few songs up our sleeves, but we don’t have any plans to release a seven-inch or something like that, or any new recordings. We will try to start recording a new album, maybe in a year, hopefully. But you can never promise anything; [Legend] took us five years. [laughter]
MB: Any final words for your fans?
OH: Come see us live, because we’re planning some stuff for the live show at the moment. It’s gonna be cool, so don’t miss us!
Photo by Philip Saxin