Witchfinder General were one of the many doom metal bands promoting the scene during it's 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 1980's, 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 80's intimidated me as I grew up in the 90's and that is where most of my musical memories come from, bar the beginning of the 21st century. The 80's 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 it's 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, it's always present and there is no problem making it out, but it's 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 it's length. It's 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.