Sweden’s Witchcraft is forging a reputation for an unabashedly retro take on hard rock. The members actually formed the band to pay tribute to Roky Erisckson and Pentagram’s Bobby Liebling, their music is frequently likened to early Sabbath, and they are often discussed as if they missed out on the last three decades of rock’s development. It’s true that they take most of their sound and style from ’70s bands, but with The Alchemist, they begin to move beyond rock’s mythical past even while they continue to masterfully recreate it.
The first five tracks here skillfully employ a plethora of ’70s-rock tricks. Magnus Pelander manages to powerfully evoke Ozzy. The bluesy guitar solos slice right through your head instead of sounding like recycled classic-rock radio. The riffs are mighty and the builds are thunderous. The members of Witchcraft are plunderers, but they make you forget it by bringing so much intelligent craftsmanship to their thievery.
The Alchemist saves its most anomalous offerings for its final two tracks. “Remembered” opens with a cheerful, almost Grateful Dead-like riff before launching into the much heavier one that supports the meat of the song, and then it closes with a saxophone solo that isn’t in itself very ambitious (actually, it sounds a bit arbitrary), but it’s certainly an effort to thwart listeners’ expectations. The album ends with its epic title track, which runs over fourteen minutes long and verges closer to prog than anything the group has previously attempted. The Alchemist is no disappointment, but it might be more exciting for what it indicates about the future of Witchcraft than for what it actually delivers.