Witchfinder General - Death Penalty
Heavy Metal Records
7 songs (30'38")
Release year: 1982
Witchfinder General, Heavy Metal Records
Reviewed by Adam
Legendary doom outfit Witchfinder General's comeback album is upon us and it is a disappointment, as seen by my accompanying review this week. Perhaps the saddest aspect of this is that said album will be the first material many people have heard from them. Undoubtedly, these people will wonder why Witchfinder General are so revered by doom aficionados. If you are one of these people, allow me to rewind to 1982 and introduce you to Death Penalty, the debut full-length and arguably best example of traditional guitar driven doom that these guys have become so revered for in gaining such a strong underground following.

First things first, this album has the air of Black Sabbath to it. As such, this is not slow, plodding traditional doom ala Candlemass. In fact, the music of Witchfinder General has much in common with their comrades in the NWOBHM movement of the early 80’s. The opening track, Invisible Hate, begins with a short acoustic intro that stops to allow the main riff to crash in with about as much energy and old school flair as you can squeeze out of a guitar. Within the first minute and a half, the two best aspects of this band are on full display. First is Phil Cope, who literally is the guitar sound of this band. Don't be fooled by the bass player being billed as "Woolfy Trope", as it is really just Phil. His riffs are equal parts smooth and bluesy, with just enough of a biting edge to make them undeniably metal. Second, and equally as vital, are Zeeb Parkes’ engaging vocals, which do not really fall neatly into an easy description. If I were to try, I would call them a cross between the clean vocals of traditional doom and classic punk rock. They tend to burst right out of the speakers and truly add alot to the sound of this band. If you pay attention to the lyrics, it becomes obvious that Zeeb is here to party, from the classic line from the opening track “Gimme gimme gimme, my beeeeer!” to the acid tripping homage that is the next track Free Country. The latter is a fast paced affair that will be sure to draw you in and have your head nodding in short order. To top it off, Phil Cope uncorks a wonderful solo that unfortunately does not come until the tail end of the song and suffers from a bit of fade out. The title track is where a more standard classic doom pace sets in, and while Zeeb steals the show for the majority, Cope’s smooth solo over the acoustic outro is still a definite highlight. Next up is No Stayer, Zeeb’s tale of a one night stand (again, he’s here to party). To lend an atmosphere of sleaziness to this subject matter, the music has quite a dirty rock feeling to it. Though this is my least favorite track on the album, it is by no means any less than very good, a further testament to the consistent quality found on Death Penalty. The following two tracks are my favorites, starting with the pounding riffing of the band's namesake. This is perhaps the hardest edged Witchfinder General song, and Zeeb's shouting at the end of the chorus ("Cause I'm the Witchfinder General!") sounds deliciously haunting. The lyrical subject matter of this and the next in line, Burning a Sinner deal with witch trials, as depicted on the tongue-in-cheek album cover art. Burning a Sinner is also the song most likely to be stuck in your head, due to the anthemic chorus chant "Burn her! Burn her! Burn her to the ground!". Not to be lost in this is Phil's short but furious solo during the bridge, which is one of his better efforts. The closing track, R.I.P. sees both vocal and guitar harmonies predominantly utilized to great effect. No matter what Witchfinder General throw at the wall on this album, it sticks, and this is no different.

Death Penalty, and Witchfinder General in...uh...general, did not receive the appreciation they truly deserved until long after this inital release. However, over the years, countless doom bands and fans have not only taken notice, but have deemed this album a landmark in the genre's history. The sound on this album is how I will choose to remember the band, underwhelming comeback albums notwithstanding.
Killing Songs :
Invisible Hate, Witchfinder General, Burning a Sinner
Adam quoted CLASSIC
Other albums by Witchfinder General that we have reviewed:
Witchfinder General - Resurrected reviewed by Adam and quoted 67 / 100
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