Remember Witchcraft? That band was all the rage in the middle of the last decade, and I thought Witchcraft’s retro-doom/rock was some pretty hot shit, myself. Sadly, nary a peep has been heard from Witchcraft for the better part of four years, and frankly, I am concerned that the band’s hiatus might be permanent. What, you might ask, does this have to do with Noctum? Well, Noctum just happens to sound a whole hell of a lot like Witchcraft. Noctum’s debut, The Séance, is comprised of similarly styled, occult-themed retro-doom, with Seventies production values, mournfully crooned vocals and mildly distorted guitars. To boot, Noctum also hails from Sweden. I do not seek to dismiss Noctum as a Witchcraft clone, but with similarities this pervasive, the comparison is unavoidable.
Despite the similarities enumerated above, Noctum’s style does differ from Witchcraft‘s in some (admittedly subtle) respects. While both bands draw influence from Pentagram and Black Sabbath, where Witchcraft favors the former, Noctum favors the latter. Noctum’s underpowered guitar tone deprives the band of a true Sabbath-like wall of sound, but the band’s compositions nonetheless carry a metallic weight largely absent in Witchcraft’s more rock-oriented songs. The tracks on The Séance tend to run a little longer than the average Witchcraft tune, and while Noctum is certainly not playing prog-rock, the band has a tendency to stretch out and jam a bit.
All comparisons aside, what really matters is that Noctum kicks out some righteous music. The band strikes a fine balance between slow ominous doom and uptempo rock. There are some riffs on The Séance that could stand toe to toe with classics from the likes of Sabbath and Candlemass. (In truth, I think some of them are Sabbath and Candlemass riffs.) At other times, Noctum rocks with the authority of Led Zeppelin or Deep Purple, and some of the band’s more syncopated moments even bring to mind early Santana. The playing throughout the record is tasteful and economical. Guitarists David Indelöf and Per Wikström use all the subtle tricks and licks necessary to wring the maximum dynamic impact from each riff. The tandem is so effective that the relative lack of distortion proves no detriment to the records overall heaviness: The Séance may rock, but it is still metal.
The one element of Noctum’s sound that some might find off-putting is the vocal performance. David Indelöf’s voice is a high warble which can come off as a little whiny. On the other hand, his voice does give The Séance’s darker moments a hint of authentic anguish and dread.
If, like me, you are anxiously awaiting a new Witchcraft record, The Séance should tide you over nicely. Fans of classic doom like Black Sabbath, Pentagram, Pagan Altar, and Witchfinder General should also take note.