Witchfinder Generals “Death Penalty” Brings The Doom Back.
Witchfinder General’s Doom Metal Classic “Death Penalty” (1982)
by Jody Haskins for The Laguna Spectator
Heavy metal albums doom evolution began with Black Sabbath in 1968. The movement laid dormant until the 1982 release of Witchfinder General’s NWOBHM Classic “Death Penalty”. This album re-introduced the doom genre to a new generation of fans.
The controversial album cover featured topless model Joanne Latham being attacked in a cemetery by Puritans. The lyrical focus is once again on our favorite topics. In no particular order; the occult, sex and drugs.
This cover was controversial at the time of release. There was a religious inspired anti heavy metal movement that began to put pressure on the early 80s rock bands and music labels to be more “family friendly” with their cover art. I felt it was my duty to show you the cover in all its technicolor glory. It would make me a hypocrite if I tried to censor what you see. Plus as a proud advocate for the “Free The Nipple” movement I really had no choice.
The band’s name was inspired by a Hammer Film movie called “Witchfinder General”, just as Black Sabbath took their name from a Boris Karloff horror movie entitled “Black Sabbath”. Both bands attempted to bring that dynamic to their heavy metal albums doom attitude. While Black Sabbath did it better and longer, Witchfinder General deserves some acclaim for making “Death Penalty”.
The year was 1982 and this is where heavy metal albums moved into the doom metal territory. The album has a whole bunch of brilliant riffs with a wicked heavy blues tone throughout. IF you are a fan of early 80s rock music and 70’s heavy metal, you will enjoy this album…for the most part.
Comparisons have been made of Witchfinder General’s “Death Penalty” and Black Sabbath’s classic heavy metal doom albums. There are musical elements that sound like they came right off “Volume 4” and “Paranoid”. The unbelievable speed of the riffs are what separates the two bands style the most.
Lead singer Zeeb Parkes has an Ozzy like vocal quality. Ozzy had much more range that Zeeb and there are two cringe worthy vocal moments on this album and I will let you discover those for yourself. Just get ready for what sounds like a cat whose tail got slammed in a door or crushed by a rocking chair. Overall the vocals are appropriate for the doom metal atmosphere of the album.
The enduring quality that separates the best New Wave of British Heavy Metal Albums from the also ran bands is the quality of the songwriting and musical arrangements. The writing team of Phil Cope and Zeeb Parkes do an excellent job of mixing the sound of early Black Sabbath with punk rock sensibility. While the production and vocals are not quite up to legendary status, the songwriting and arrangement more than make this a classic 80s NWOBHM album that belongs in your collection.