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Class 6(66)

Witchfinder General: Death penalty

14/09/12  ||  Sokaris

Introduction

Witchfinder General played an interesting role as part of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal. Back when bands like Iron Maiden, Venom, Angel Witch, Diamond Head and the like were upping the tempo and energy we had this trio reinjecting some early Black Sabbath into the formula. Witchfinder General were basically peerless, though if Pagan Altar had released their debut back then instead of a decade and a half later, there would have at least been two doom-centric bands in the movement. You still get the same early 80’s ‘eavy met’ul vibe from these guys, but it’s a little hazier and a little more stoned than most of the other bands of the era.

Songwriting

7. Heavy, occasionally somber mid-paced riffing with good interplay from the other instruments. The band have a knack for great choruses and those will likely stick with you more than anything else. It’d be interesting to hear more change-ups in their bridges, maybe building upon the accelerated guitar solo section in album highlight “Burning a sinner” and attempting more ideas like that.

Production

7. Old and crusty and a little muffled and all that. It’s hard to judge production from this era for me. You can hear everything fairly clearly but the tone is thick enough to please. “Death penalty” has any charm or detraction you assign to dated production as well, of course. It’s not a very big sounding record overall and, well, it sounds old. For me that’s not necessarily a bad thing but if you’re a strictly modern dude the production alone will put you off.

Guitars

8. Heavy, very straightforward stuff. Even by early 80s standards this would be likely considered somewhat a throwback to earlier bands of heaviness. You’re not going to get the all-out doomified badassery of something like early Candlemass as the riffing isn’t that dramatic, but there’s a good blend of a sort of prototype of that style, then-modern elements that defined the British heavy metal boom and influence from Sabbath and some pre-metal acts.

Vocals

6. This might be a deal-breaker for some people. Zeeb Parkes has a sort of bizarre, nasally tone that might put off some people. The general consensus is that as weird as his sound is, it fits what Witchfinder General is doing. I find myself agreeing with this sentiment and I had no problem with the man’s style, personally. Occasionally some of his phrasing gets a little awkward, like in the chorus of the band’s self-titled song where it seems like he crams just a few too many words into the refrain. It’s definitely not as catchy as “You’re an angel witch, you’re an angel witch…” but it’s still memorable.

Bass

6. Adequate. The four string doesn’t follow the guitar religiously but it doesn’t stand out much on its own either. Since the Finder were a three piece I imagine the bass contributed a decent amount to the heaviness present so a 6 is in order.

Drums

6. Generally speaking I appreciate raw-sounding, REAL sounding drums in appropriate circumstances. Here though I actually think the kit is a little underproduced. However it doesn’t kill the performance and it works with the garagey jammy quality to the playing style. There’s character and energy to the fills, a good variety to the beats and more.

Lyrics

3. Pretty goddamn bad for the most part. We have songs about the basics: sex, drugs and some general witchfinding. Every song has at least one cringe-worthy line and you can definitely tell that these guys were goddamn blitzed out of their heads. I’ve noticed a lot of the best lyrics in metal are imported from the UK (Sabbat, Carcass, My Dying Bride and Cradle of Filth come to mind) but these guys would make Martin Walktyier wince and Dani Filth facepalm.

Cover art

9. There’s just something about elaborately staged scenes for photo on album covers that I really dig. It’s tough to pull off and probably wouldn’t really work for most bands but there’s just something deliciously evocative of the time period here. Also, boobies!

Logo

7. I would bash the fuck out of any band using all caps Old English lettering as a logo these days, but I’ll give Witchfinder G. a pass because they’re both old and English so it fits.

Booklet

6. As far as I know there’s only one version of this album on CD but the booklet I have has the atrocious lyrics printed in their full glory along with some red-hued versions of the original art. There’s a sort of “follow-up” image of the album cover on the back featuring the lovely-titted model left for the dead after her sentence was carried out.

Overall and ending rant

This thing shows its age but honestly these guys would’ve sounded a little bit retro in ’82. To this day they’re a bit of curiosity, a band with one foot in the NWOBHM and one foot in Sabbath inspired doom. These guys pre-dated the doom boom that brought us Candlemass, St. Vitus, Trouble and the like and were managed to put out a full length unlike their peers in Pentagram and Pagan Altar. This thing shows its age but wears it like a badge.

7.5

  • Information
  • Released: 1982
  • Label: Heavy Metal Records
  • Website: www.witchfindergeneral.net
  • Band
  • Zeeb Parkes: vocals
  • Phil Cope: guitars, bass
  • Steve Kinsell: drums
  • Tracklist
  • 01. Invisible hate
  • 02. Free country
  • 03. Death penalty
  • 04. No stayer
  • 05. Witchfinder general
  • 06. Burning a sinner
  • 07. R.I.P.