While they may not be terribly well-known in North America, former Norrsken guitarist Magnus Pelander and his bandmates in Witchcraft are owed a debt of gratitude by Down fans the world over. After all, the Swedish sludge-rockers are largely responsible for getting Down back together.
Sound strange? Well, it isn't. Long before Down began writing material for this year's Down III: Over the Under, frontman Phil Anselmo got a hold of one of Witchcraft's LPs and instantly fell in love with the band — so much so, in fact, that it inspired him to show up, unannounced, on Down guitarist Pepper Keenan's doorstep after a long silence. Anselmo wanted to introduce Keenan to his "new favorite band" and, through an impromptu listening session, the pair's relationship was rekindled — and Down were resurrected.
Pelander's not quite ready to take credit for Down's revival, but he certainly appreciates Anselmo's endorsement.
"I found out a couple of years ago, and it was mind-blowing to hear that," the singer/guitarist said. "I remember hearing the rumor that we were one of Phil's favorite bands, and I was like, 'What?' He's a metal icon, and I have nothing but respect [for] all those guys. We actually met Phil and Pepper twice, once when we were touring the U.S., and Phil's been talking about us in interviews — and that's really nice."
And in fall 2006, the members of Down were presented with a chance to return the favor to Witchcraft, for unintentionally bringing them back together. "We first met the Down guys in Stockholm [Sweden], and at the time, we were still shocked that they liked us," Pelander explained. "Then we met them again in New Orleans, and it was surreal, to say the least. We ran out of gear [on our tour] — one of our amps was broken — and we started thinking about it ... and we figured maybe the guys in Down could help us out. Our manager phoned Phil, and he was like, 'Sure.' There were maybe 30 people in the crowd that night, and half of them ended up being from either Down or Eyehategod. It was cool."
Unfortunately, Anselmo's love of Witchcraft hasn't led the band to an opening slot on a Down tour. But Pelander said he'd be up for the challenge. He's just waiting for the invite — and while he's at it, Pelander wouldn't mind if the Osbournes came calling on Witchcraft, either. "I guess we're on the rise now, so maybe that will be an option," he enthused. "We'll see what happens."
For now, Witchcraft are on their own headlining run, which kicked off Thursday night in New York and runs through December 1 in — that's right — New York. Saviours have been tapped to open on the tour's first leg, with Radio Moscow doing the honors on the second half. The band is touring in support of The Alchemist, which hits stores Tuesday, but it also has a limited split 12-inch EP with like-minded metallers the Sword coming out November 13.
With any luck, this headlining trek Witchcraft are on now will end up being more successful than some of the tours they staged in the past. Unfortunately, Witchcraft have had their fair share of bad luck, with tours that inevitably ended up canceled.
Back in 2005, Keenan invited Witchcraft to take part in Corrosion of Conformity's U.K. tour — but then Hurricane Katrina hit. Keenan, a New Orleans resident, was displaced by the storm and forced to cancel the trek. Not long after, Monster Magnet picked the band to open on their European jaunt, but unforeseen circumstances forced that tour's abolition.
But Pelander takes it all in stride: "We've had so much good stuff happen for us as well," he explained, "so you have to take the good with the bad."
Witchcraft, who've been dubbed everything from "doom metal" to "prog rock," were primarily influenced by bands like Black Sabbath and Pentagram, the singer said. They've got a classic hard-rock sound that incorporates elements from various kinds of metal and is further sprinkled with folk, blues and psychedelic influences. At times, the band has even been lumped into the "hipster" metal class, along with bands like Mastodon, the Sword and Clutch.
"I've always wondered what that means," Pelander said. "But it's cool — it's always good to reach a wider audience, so I don't mind."
The Alchemist is Witchcraft's third studio offering and, to most fans, captures the band at its sludgy best. While he wouldn't characterize the effort as the album "we've always been working towards," Pelander does think the sound they captured on the record has been a long time coming.
"It's definitely something that's been growing inside of us for quite some time, and we're just generally happy that we managed to get it down right," he said. "We're really happy with this record, and we wanted our sound to progress with it. There's always some concentrated effort to do things differently, but for us, it comes rather naturally. After we finish one record, we want to progress with the next record. The aim is always to be a bit more progressive than before — at least that's the idea."
Being from Sweden, the guys in Witchcraft grew up around a vibrant, thriving metal scene. And Pelander freely admits that, when it comes to that scene today, Witchcraft stick out like a sore thumb.
"It's not very usual for a band like us to come out of Sweden and not be a black-metal or death-metal band," he said. "We're a crossover band, and that's a good thing, I think. Maybe it makes us more unique, in a way."
The rest of the week's metal news:
Slipknot are gearing up for their next record, but that's not stopping some of their bandmembers from taking on extracurricular production projects. Drummer Joey Jordison took on his first major role as producer for 3 Inches of Blood's recent Fire Up the Blades LP, and now singer Corey Taylor and percussionist M. Shawn "Clown" Crahan have lined up their own endeavors. Taylor will produce the upcoming, yet-untitled Walls of Jericho EP over a 14-day period next month at his home studio in Iowa. "I love this band, and the fact that [they have] trust in me makes me incredibly grateful. I'm so excited to do this," he said in a statement." The EP will be included with Walls of Jericho's upcoming DVD, "Live in South America," which comes out in March. While Taylor is working with Walls, Crahan will be teaming with Lincoln, Nebraska, band Dirtfedd for their new album, The American Nightmare. The recording is set to be held at Omaha's ARC Studios, which is owned by indie-rock producer Mike Mogis. "They are from the Midwest, which gives them a big advantage in how to shape their own vision, rather than get caught up in clichéd scenes," Crahan said. "I personally cannot wait until we give this art to the world. It's time things change." ... High on Fire have just announced the second U.S. leg of their tour for Death Is This Communion, which came out in September. The five-week trek will start January 17 in Santa Cruz, California, and run through February 23 in Oakland, California. A Life Once Lost and Saviours will open all dates; Archons, Rwake and Intronaut will play select shows. ...
All That Remains ran into all kinds of problems leading up to the release of their first live DVD, which was bumped three times before its final October 30 release date was settled. Initially, "Live" was supposed to come out in the summer and feature a full Philadelphia show shot in the spring. But, mysteriously, the audio on several songs was not recorded. So, All That Remains contracted for a second show to be shot in Baltimore in July. However, days after the shoot, the production company filed for bankruptcy and its assets, which included the ATR footage, were seized by the IRS. After an arduous legal battle, the band recovered the video and scheduled the DVD for mid-October. Then ATR found out that the entrance music they used, which is from the video game "Halo," was not cleared, even though they had allegedly been led to believe it would be approved. So the opening had to be edited out — hence the final delay. "We are wicked pumped to be able to offer our fans a feature-packed DVD," singer Phil Labonte said. "Thanks to all the ATR fans everywhere who have waited patiently for this. It's a long time coming, and we feel like it's full of good stuff and worth the wait." ...
Teen '80s-style metal band Black Tide — whose youngest member, Gabriel Garcia (vocals, guitar), is 14 — will release their major label debut, Light From Above, in February. The band played Ozzfest this summer and will open a tour for Avenged Sevenfold and the Confession starting October 27 in Los Angeles and running through December 13 in Portland, Oregon. ... Atreyu guitarist Dan Jacobs launched his Rokk Clothing line earlier this month at BringtheRokk.com, and has so far received orders from across the U.S., England, Australia, Germany and Italy, according to a press statement. "I wanted to design my own brand because I wanted to produce the kind of T-shirt I would buy at a reasonable price," Jacobs said. "These tees had to look like real '80s stuff — classic-rock band T-shirts in bold primary colors and design. They've got to look so good that at first glance you'd think it was the real thing." We're guessing Jacobs isn't planning to compete with Gwen Stefani's L.A.M.B. clothing line. ... Canadian thrash band Thine Eyes Bleed — whose bassist, Johnny Araya, is the brother of Slayer frontman Tom Araya — have nailed down March 4 as the release date for their self-titled second album. The disc will be the follow-up to the group's 2005 debut, In the Wake of Separation. "This ain't your one-note-chug-along-and-dance-to-bad-haircut metal," Araya said in a statement. "There is thought behind the music and passion behind the musicianship. This is the real deal." ...
Japanese experimental-metal madmen Sigh will reissue their 2005 album, Gallows Gallery, November 27. The disc will be fully remastered by ex-Death guitarist James Murphy, and will contain six bonus tracks and new artwork. "In the beginning, Gallows Gallery was planned to be pretty much a jazzy album," frontman Mirai Kawashima said in a statement. "You'll hear the discarded pieces along with some alternate versions never heard before. Finally Gallows Gallery will be released in the form of what it should have been." ... Eighties thrash band Hirax are in their California rehearsal space writing new songs for their upcoming full-length album, El Rostro de la Muerte/The Face of Death. The band recently released the four-song EP Chaos and Brutality throughout Europe, although no U.S. release is planned. ... Sludge-metal warriors the Sword will launch a U.S. tour with Black Cobra starting November 30 in Shreveport, Louisiana. Dates are scheduled through December 20 in Reno, Nevada. Valient Thorr and the Roller will play select shows. ... Demiricous, Dying Fetus, the Absence and Skeletonwitch will launch a new tour November 1 in Baltimore. Cephalic Carnage will join the bill on November 15 in Louisville, Kentucky, and remain through the closing date: December 1 in Denver.