Witchfinder General – Death Penalty
Label: Heavy Metal Records HMR XD 8
Format: CD, Album
Genre: Doom Metal / N.W.O.B.H.M.
1 Invisible Hate
2 Free Country
3 Death Penalty
4 No Stayer
5 Witchfinder General
6 Burning A Sinner
Possessing a murky, stark edge, the six tracks herein bluster and howl in time- honoured early Black Sabbath /Angel Witch tradition. vocalist Zeeb Parkes and axeman Phil Cope are particularly strong influences, as the band roar through a revamped version of their very first single, ‘Burning A Sinner’, plus the likes of the eponymous Witchfinder General’, and the gruesome ‘RIP’.
Bass Woolfy Trope
Drums Graham Ditchfield
Engineer: Robin George!
Guitar Phil Cope
Producer Pete Hinton
Vocals Zeeb Parkes
CD release of 1982 LP.
“They were a band with a typical early ’80s British sound. They extracted much of what they did from Sabbath and they did it extremely well. Of course they were not as heavy as Cathedral are, but there is no problem hearing the influences on there. The songs are sometimes faster, but the riffs are similar. Witchfinder General also had lots of melody and GOOD melody at that. They had that groove, and they had the lyrics to match the music. “Gimme, gimme, gimme, gimme beer” and “Lets trip on LSD” being memorable lines. if you are at all interested in the roots of stoner doom in general and in particular, Cathedral, you need this one.”
“By looking at the cover of this album, you might be fooled into thinking that any band that descends to showing a womans tits on an album cover is doing so because thats all they’ve really got going for them. Not in this case – for Witchfinder General, its a perfect extension of the music. Witchfinder Generals style is closer to Black Sabbath, in a psychedelic stoner-rock-metal kind of way – the band glorified mindless sex and drug use to the point of self-destructive nihilism, and occasionally threw in an ‘evil’ song for good measure (musically, think of mid-era Trouble and you’ll be close).”
“The rhythm section of Woolfy Trope (bass) and Graham Ditchfield (drums) laid a good foundation for guitarist Phil Copes excellent Iommi-inspired riffing, but Copes much more adept and energetic soloing added a bit more of a modern flair to the Sabbath-esque sound. The most unique facet of the band, though, was frontman Zeeb Parkes’ vocals – he uses some combination of nasal whine and indistinct mumbling that actually comes off quite a bit better than that description – truly unique, and something that must be heard to be understood.”
5.0 out of 5 stars Classic Nwobhm,
This is a really great Nwobhm album. Really funny artwork.
This album is a much over-looked piece of heavy metal history. It embodies all that was great about the British metal of the time; all bluesy, crunchingly heavy riffs, wailing vocals, and powerful drums. Not to mention funky bass lines!
The band seems to have the kind of cult status that gives one the impression that you have to be in on the joke to really appreciate the music. This is probably true, as the lyrics are quite absurd… Just take the title track:
“You Witches are evil, and you worship the devil… so listen to what I say”
“Whos coming to get you? Whos coming to take you away? Find you guilty witch woman, cos I’m the Witchfinder General”.
you can’t go far wrong with ‘Death Penalty’. Its a laugh!
Witchfinder General were one of the many doom metal bands promoting the scene during its formation. Influenced by another stand out genre of the decade, heavy metal, the British band took a lot of influence from another British act, particularly in terms of vocal expression, that band being the legendary Black Sabbath, fronted by Ozzy Osbourne. The honest truth is that my experience with traditional doom, especially in terms of the bands that began to take shape in the 1980s, is underdeveloped. I consider myself a knowledgeable person when it comes to regular doom, and various sub-genres of it, but traditional doom metal went over my head. For a long time I was put off by the sound of the older generations. It was almost as if the 80s intimidated me as I grew up in the 90s and that is where most of my musical memories come from, bar the beginning of the 21st century. The 80s was an exciting period for the development of metal, in general. It saw numerous bands gain notoriety and develop the stature of bands who were well known outside metal, `the devils music’. Bands like Witchfinder General are important to the genre, even today. It is imperative for fans of the doom genre to explore the roots of the scene and to me, especially the British side of it with its powerhouse acts like Witchfinder General. In terms of making comparisons to fellow British bands like Black Sabbath, I’m limited in how far I can go with those comparisons because, as I said, my knowledge of older generation acts is limited. I’ve only just begun to take an interest in traditional doom, so give it time. `Death Penalty’, a 1982 release, is a powerful introduction to the old school style that Witchfinder General so coolly bring to the genres set up. The style of yesteryear took me a while to get into, but now that I’m there, records like ‘Death Penalty’ have me air guitaring and head banging like everyone else.
Lets get the comparisons out of the way. Legendary band Black Sabbath were a shining light in the early days of the doom/heavy metal crossover and much of that is due to the stage presence and sound of vocalist Ozzy Osbourne. I have heard his vocals before, albeit only briefly, and one can say there are similarities between Zeeb Parkes and the Black Sabbath leading man. Without spending too much time on comparisons, Zeeb Parkes’ vocals are enchanting. His vocals are one of the main positives to come out of this record. The relationship between Zeeb and Phil Cope, who is in control of the guitars on this record, is powerfully emitted through a number of catchy riffs and devastatingly groovy solos, which are finely highlighted in songs like `Invisible Hate’ and the self-titled track, `Death Penalty’. Whilst I don’t consider the lyrics to be anything more than fun, they should be highlighted in songs such as `Invisible Hate’. The groove infested guitars and the intoxicating vocals entwine to establish a powerfully emotive driven sound, which evokes the happiest of images and the best of times, namely, beer fests. The lyrics in the aforementioned song is, in particular, brilliant at creating an upbeat sound which is also brought to the surface by the wonderful skills of Phil Cope on guitars and the percussion section, which also drives forward the catchy creations of Witchfinder General.
“I’ve fought my hate now here comes joy
How I fought it I don’t know oh boy
Some say God, some say faith
I say sex, drugs, rock and beer
The repetition in both the lyrics with, “My beer”, which conjures an ever-so-jolly mood and the repetition of certain guitar riffs reinforces the dominating upbeat sound, which is also emphasised by the incredible vocals. The snappy snares and the crashing cymbals also indicate to the audience a jovial shift in mood. The intricate changes in textures and tones allows Witchfinder General to showcase their talents in the best of their abilities which, again, is best displayed in songs like `Death Penalty` when the tempo significantly alters to a slower pace, which allows the percussion to really enforce itself. In terms of disappointing aspects to `Death Penalty’, the bass doesn’t back up the jovial mood which runs alongside the songs that well. The clear production, which gives precedence to the vocals, doesn’t detract from the work of the bass, its always present and there is no problem making it out, but its more powerful in some songs than others, `No Stayer’ for example, brings out the best in the bass as it begins to run the show. Unfortunately, when it does, the rest of the music suffers. While songs like `No Stayer’ give the bass a more important role, the song, overall, isn’t as good as previous ones. I find that, as the record progresses, the stand out songs begin to fade, which was disappointing. Other than those minor points, the only other point that concerned me with this record is its length. Its a short album and I tend to favour longer records. Despite this, `Death Penalty’ is a pivotal record in understanding the origins of doom metal. To most, this is a classic which will never die.
5.0 out of 5 stars Village Hall Tomfoolery Part 1- Breasts and Sabbath,
Witchfinder General the band who appeal to the small margin of people who think Black Sabbath are good, but ultimately aren’t bad enough. Witchfinder General do just that, play traditional Sabbatharian metal but are slightly bad, albeit in a good way.
I must say I find Witchfinder General a touch overrated, sure theres lovely riffs smattered through `Death Penalty’ and the art work is a glorious kitsch and voluptuous homage to my beloved Hammer Horror (although I do believe the actual film `Witchfinder General’ was an Amicus production), but the band on the whole is let down by a couple of things. Firstly, the curiously named Zeeb Parkes is the archetypal wimpy NWOBHM vocalist, wavering out of key at times and generally he doesn’t possess a particularly strong voice (say Ozzy did the same thing at your own peril, anyone who doubts Ozzys vocal power in my presence is off the Christmas card list) . Also, the band aren’t the greatest of composers or musicians which does hinder things slightly, as it leads to scrappy execution or awkward expression of ideas. Of course, this could be overlooked if band were better songwriters (for instance Diamond Head aren’t the best players but they get away with it due to the resounding quality of their music on the debut).
This said, there are some corkers here. `Invisible Hate’, despite sharing the same lyrical short comings as the rest of the album (the economy? Yeah, metal duder!) is a nice groovy number. The intro is a blatant aping of Black Sabbaths sombre acoustic passages, but nicely done. The midsection, again, borrows heavily from `War Pigs’, namely the ominous section in which the root, fifth and minor seventh are picked, the guitars do pretty much the same thing here. The song descends into simple demands for beer, which is all fine and well, indeed, its a nice little touch of my beloved Gumbied outlook on life. `Free Country’ is a brilliant homage to all sorts of drugs, but thankfully maintains an anti-Heroin stance (Heroin isn’t cool, ask Lemmy). The main riff is the bands best and has a nice pathos and urgency to it. In fact the guitars are the best thing about this release, Phil Cope isn’t a genius but he does a good job at nearly nailing the early 70s Iommi vibe, as no one (our dear Lord exempt) can recreate that sound truly. `Death Penalty’ is another strong song, the main riff is blatantly obvious, but all the better for it. I can’t help but feel its lyrical content is better suited to the Conservative convention rather than a heavy metal release though.
`No Stayer’ starts well, a early Sabbath styled jam (apparently these fellows have known to play the odd Sabbath vinyl!) but then descends into an abominably mediocre “Hey baby, I’ll be gone when the morning comes” type rocker. Yeah great, you pulled, I’m sure she was dead impressed by the fact you sing for Witchfinder General, “Oh my sweet lord, Witchfinder General! I was going to get my bat cave serviced by David Coverdale, but you’re a much more apt suitor!”, those were her exact words. Anyway, it sucks harder than a toothless harlot. `Witchfinder General’ could have been a classic but the vocals and syntax of the lyrics come across as awkward and a tad silly, for example;
`Oim the Witchfinder General!”, its full of drama, but comes across as more Adam Ant than Rob Halford. The guitar harmony section is quirky in all the wrong ways too.
If you want a slab of quirky Sabbath influenced NWOBHM you can’t go far wrong.
5.0 out of 5 stars a fine display of power,
witchfinder general formed in 1979 and were part of the new wave of British heavy metal as in the first movement thereof,they split 4 years later and released two albums at that point,this is the debut and while not a household name in terms of success enjoyed this is still a great album that doesnt take itself seriously in any way.
The band certainly have taken a trick or two from black sabbath but havent limited themselves as a doom band,they are faster than that but the production of the album and the way instruments sound certainly owes a debt to their fellow English men.The band are certainly heavy metal and hard rock with the bravado to write sometimes silly lyrics but still maintain the full blooded integrity of metal.
Vocalist zeeb parkes is not an ozzy clone,in fact he has his own style,he sounds like vince neil of motley crue to me although parkes came first,im just stating thats what he sounds like for those sick of singers sounding like the reality tv star.
This album whips in at half a hour long and contains seven great songs,i wouldnt say seven masterpieces although its hard to call ‘bruning a sinner’ and ‘invisible hate’ anything else but that.
The song ‘ no stayer’ starts off with a jamming session of sorts before hurtling into a sleazy almost glam like romp that causes a smile or three,album closer ‘r.i.p’ is also worthy of mention. Great album from an unsung band hey.