Thursday, June 15, 2006

WITCHFINDER GENERALS LOVED SEX, ROCK & BEER: Maybe burning sinners, too


Absolutely perfect artwork
Witchfinder General's Live '83 is getting as much time in the changer as Def Leppard's Yeah! They both came out of the same era and longitude/latitude in Britain. Leppard went forward and upward. Witchfinder General went sideways for a mercilessly brief period and floundered after putting out two tasteless records, Death Penalty and Friends of Hell.

But tasteless is often a synonym for great in heavy metal, and so it was with Death Penalty. The band placed a topless model rinsed in theatrical blood on the sleeve in '82. By the second LP in '83, [the cynical efforts -- another blood-spattered model] "succeeded only in losing what little support the band had ... " according to Larkin's Encyclopedia of Heavy Rock.

Ah -- sell when you can when you're not for all markets, it can be said.

The years have been kind to Witchfinder General. Many who write about hard rock with genuine knowledge continue to enjoy their old records. They were a Black Sabbath imitation when Black Sabbath no longer made the heavy music purists wanted.

Not many are good at that art. The standard fan probably doesn't know of Count Raven or Sheavy and you won't see WG cited in any casual dork-from-a-newspaper's rave on Wolfmother.

(N.b.: Actually, if you consult the Internet, you can dig up some cross-references. The good ones boil down to this: If you like Wolfmother a great deal, you probably don't know Witchfinder General, or if you think you do, you don't. Listen again. And if you like Witchfinder General a lot, you've no use for Wolfmother.)

I should have died my hair black!
But Witchfinder General was there first with the Sabbath emulation and Live '83 is proof of it. The production is lo-fi and it works to the band's advantage. The drums are a moving fog of rolling cannonade, Phil Cope's guitar issuing ropey mid-tempo riffs and jazzy-modal lead licks taken from Tony Iommi. The tribute is good.

All the songs you want to hear from Death Penalty are rendered. Heck, the band's entire recorded catalog seems to be delivered. So with DP, you get the songs "Burning a Sinner," "Witchfinder General" and the title tune. "Sinner" has singer Zeeb wailing over and over, "Burn her, burn her, burn her 'til she dies," which would seem assured. "Witchfinder General" is about more incineration of witches, "Death Penalty" is similar and "Love on Smack" has the woman dieing again. "She's dead!" spurts from the singer before the recording ends, in case you weren't sure. Do you get the feeling the Generals might have been using the old Hammer film with Vincent Price as a witchburner as a metaphor for frustration in physical love?

Anyway, "No Stayer" disposes of the antique references. Zeeb shouts "This is about having a good fuck and then going home. You all like to have a good fuck, don't you?" "Invisible Hate" has him telling the audience, an audience you can't hear (for a "live" record, they are absolutely silent), that the things he must have are sex, rock and beer. "Gimme-gimme-gimme-Ma-beee-er!"

These tunes aren't that cruel to women but they have the necessary things going on with them that drove girls from venues and guaranteed a small audience of loyal young men willing to endure piss in their shoes from the plugged bathroom. And that's where Def Leppard had them. The Leps wanted women to like them a lot and worked hard at it in their music. Of course, they wrote better songs, too.

"Quietus" pulls out all stops. Zeeb's voice drops into full sepulchral Ozzy imitation, and he announces "This is a song about a death finishing stroke, it's called qui-ate-us!" That's not coitus. It's ten minutes long, sounds like 'ludes, and "For anyone who likes real heavy rock, this has gotta be the number," asserts Zeeb. And, you know, he was right.

3 Comments:

Blogger Jallen said...

Fantastic piece dude!

Our own Jeff recently did a write up on 'Witchfinder as well, we would love to know yer thoughts.

5:31 PM  
Blogger Boon Pan said...

Kick ass Man!

p.s. I love Count Raven

10:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Decent critic this I'll hand it to ya....but if you really want to hear 'HEAVY' then wait til the 'new' stuff comes out. It'll kick ass!!!

11:02 AM  

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