Witchfinder General – Death Penalty ( Review Request )   Leave a comment

Time for another review request and this time its a album I really enjoyed re-visiting. Its a flashback of doom-days past and this one has not only stood the test of time but its interesting in the way its means different things to different people depending on your age group and place of birth. Witchfinder General climb on board the new wave of British heavy metal in the late 70’s and cause a major stir when they release their debut album “Death Penalty” in 1982. The album followed a couple of now highly collectible singles namely “Burning A Sinner” and “Soviet Invasion”, both classic tracks in their own right. The first thing to raise eyebrows was of course the cover. It featured Joanne Latham, a well known British fashion model with breasts exposed, needless to say the album was either taken off record store shelves or hidden inside a brown paper outer sleeve. The cover photograph was taken in the yard of St Mary the Blessed Virgin Church in Enville, Staffordshire, without the permission of the local Reverend too I might add.

The other striking element of the record was the music itself, they were self-confessed Sabbath clones which was going against 99% of what was happening in British Metal at the time. Most people outside out the UK don’t realize that British Heavy Metal bands at the time were at least 2 years ahead of everybody else. Those who think that Speed Metal started with the likes of Metallica’s “Kill Em All” don’t know that there was many UK bands playing just as fast or even faster than Metallica ever did and they did it 18 months to 2 years before the genre became fashionable. Witchfinder General bypass that trend completely and went for slow, doomy sabbath inspired riffing which was something rare for the so called N.W.O.B.H.M movement. This wasn’t Saxon or Iron Maiden styled headbanging metal, this was old-school filthy hippie metal with a attitude to match. At its time of release it was consider a fun but a cheap attempt at a Black Sabbath worshiping record with a dirty production and even a Ozzy Osbourne cloned vocalist in Zeeb Parkes. These days though, its considered a classic Doom Metal record and in my mind its always been that, I actually have bought this recording 7 times in various formats including a glorious picture disc that would be hanging on my wall right now if I wasn’t married ha ha.

The lyrics were sexist and cheesy like “I’m going to lay her, do you know what I mean, I really wanna make her scream”(No Stayer) or drug inspired like “Look out for me, Let’s trip on L.S.D and “Mushroom tea, a toke of weed, Amphetamine is real good speed”(Free Country). They also have their fair share of Black Sabbath inspired evilness which popped in the tracks “Witchfinder General” and “R.I.P”. Musically it was a combination of infectious and at the same time gloomy riffing from Phil Cope, throbbing bass that was supplied on the record by a fictitious person called Woolfy Trope(?). The vocals of Zeeb Parkes was like a cross between Ozzy Osbourne and Joey Ramone and his voice went from traditional singing to squeals(Invisible Hate). The atmosphere on the record was incredibly dark for 1982, not since the early Sabbath records had this much darkness been unleashed on a metal album. In years to come of course it was quickly over-shadowed by the likes of Trouble and Saint Vitus but hey, they were doom kings for at least a year.

The whole album is great and timeless despite it being a total Sabbath rip-off and being incredibly cheesy in the lyric department. Its packed with great grooves that still didn’t come close to the heaviness of original Black Sabbath but it was really the first record of its kind for a number of years, maybe even since Sabbath’s Volume 4 was released. The standouts are the opener “Invisible Hate”(an ode to sex, drugs, rock, and beer), “R.I.P”( a tribute to grave robbers everywhere), “No Stayer”(with its Rat Salad rip off intro) and “Free Country” with its anthemic, drug-taking vibe. The band went on to release a disappointing follow up album in 83 titled “Friends of Hell”, the album wasn’t a disaster by any means but lacked the spark the first album had. The band split in 1984 and faded into obscurity till the doom revival of the late 90’s and early 2000’s rekindled interest in the band. They reformed with a different line up in 2006 and released a new studio album(Resurrected) in 2008 and while its a decent album, the original elements that made the band great in the early 80’s are sadly lacking. Good music matures with age and that is what has happened with Witchfinder General’s “Death Penalty”, it still sounds great today in all its cheesy, monster riffing glory. If you love Doom Metal it has to be a essential part of your collection. 10/10
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Witchfinder General



Posted August 25, 2010 by doommantia in Witchfinder General

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