The story goes that Sweden's WITCHCRAFT first began as a tribute to former 13TH FLOOR ELEVATORS legend Roky Erickson and PENTAGRAM's Bobby Liebling. The self-titled debut album caused quite a buzz and if it's anything like "Firewood", I can understand why. Prior to actually hearing "Firewood", I would have taken with a grain of salt comments describing the sound as inclusive of everyone from "vintage PENTAGRAM to JETHRO TULL." Well, it's all true on this classic '60s/'70s-sounding collection of doom and classic rock that is firmly rooted in the blues.
Producer Jens Henriksson is the X factor. His recording captures the essence of the analog sounds of the '70s. No unnecessary effects or studio gimmickry, the album's sound conjures images of bell-bottoms, long dirty hair, a mess of tangled guitar cords, and stacks of amplifiers. The debut album was recorded with '60s and '70s equipment, and hearing "Firewood" makes me think that this same equipment must have been used.
The aforementioned blues component of "Firewood" is key, as the style takes one back to the sound of so many early metal and hard rock bands. The reinterpretation of the music of the (American) deep south's blues masters by CREAM, BLACK SABBATH, and many others can be heard all over "Firewood". If you think about the whole "Crossroads" deal-with-the-devil thing and the way in which the bluesy jams on Side B of the first SABBATH record feel so damn evil, you can begin to understand the vibe of "Firewood". It's also the way the bass guitar takes such a commanding position on these songs, jamming along with the guitars and drums, each instrument heard distinctly in arrangements that are jazz-like at times.
While the early PENTAGRAM sound is accurate on a few tunes, the pure doom element doesn't dominate and is still more a product of the blues than anything else (as is the case with Liebling's band of course). Tracks like the earthy "I See a Man" and highlight "Wooden Cross (I Can't Wake the Dead)" exemplify the doomier side. Whether it's "Queen of Bees" or "If Wishes were Horses" (the latter featuring a serious Iommi-like solo) the music of "Firewood" is a blast from the late-'60s/early-'70s in terms of musicianship and the way that bands like CREAM could induce feelings of dread, as well as kick your ass.
Those folks whose CD collection is made up exclusively of Hot Topic purchases may not initially understand the relevance of what WITCHCRAFT has created, and that's a shame. "Firewood" is not a reinvention of the style, but it is a superb tribute to the progenitors of doom, the legends of the blues, and the purveyors of old-school British hard rock.