sexta-feira, 13 de dezembro de 2013

WITCHFYNDE (UK) - Studio Discography (1980-2008)

It's been a while since the glorious days of NWOBHM, but Witchfynde still holds a place in Heavy Metal's collective conscience as a band who made underground history. Seen as one of the forerunners of Occult Metal (not to say Black Metal itself), the quartet suffered a lot with unfavorable contracts and mismanaged labels, something that hindered the bands career to a large extent. Still, they managed to conjure a small but respectable vinyl legacy, with six proper studio albums released to this day. Witchfynde's music was not that malevolent and eerie most of the time (and their obsession with the occult resulted in a considerable ammount of media ridicule, it must be said), but they still succeeded in creating a somber and near-legendary image to themselves, so it's fair to say the band is a necessary reference to anyone willing to explore the darker corners of the Metal universe.

The roots of this dark entity come from as early as 1973, when drummer Gra Scoresby and Montalo first got together, in a liaison strong for no less than 40 years now. After the usual difficulties to build a stable line-up, Steve Bridges (V) and Andro Coulton (B) would join the ranks in a permanent basis, and the band spent most of the 70s gigging relentlessly and building a strong following in the Derbyshire (UK) area. It was some long years of waiting for something to happen - until the beast known as NWOBHM started to take shape at the tail end of the decade, giving Witchfynde a whole new chance to shine (or to darken, for that matter).

GIVE 'EM HELL (LP, Rondelet, 1980) ****

01. Ready to Roll 02. The Divine Victim 03. Leaving Nadir 04. Gettin' Heavy 05. Give 'em Hell 06. Unto the Ages of the Ages 07. Pay Now - Love Later

The first fruit of Witchfynde's studio activities would be a 7'' single from 1979, pairing "Give 'em Hell" (the song, that is) with "Getting Heavy". The effort, released by Rondelet Records (that had no experience with Metal acts prior to this point, being much more a Punk Rock label than anything else), shifted in pretty impressive quantities at the time, enough to require further pressings - and to encourage the label to allow Withcfynde to lay down enough music for a full LP. It seems that Steve Bridges (V), Montalo (G), Andro Coulton (B) and Gra Scoresby (D) decided to fully adopt a satanic imagery more or less around this time, making a strong effort to represent themselves as an Occult Metal proposition (I suppose the smiling Baphomet visage at the front cover wouldn't pass unnoticed at your local record shop, you know). "Give 'em Hell" the album may not be as scornful and malevolent as you might expect, but it surely does sound eerie like a record mastered at the very dephts of hell (well, maybe not that much, but you get the idea). The production and mixing are raw, but it actually works in favour of the album instead of being detrimental to its merits, giving a sort of "underground" feeling which adds to the overall atmosphere. Musically speaking, it's not pure blood Black Metal at all - it's more like a hybrid of 70's Judas Priest, Black Sabbath and similar influences ("Ready to Roll", for instance, always sounded to me like Thin Lizzy on a solar eclipse or something), with an undeniable penchant for gloomy ambiences and a few pinches of Psychedelic Rock here and there. And let's be fair: everything work to great effect here, specially in tracks such as "Unto the Ages of the Ages" and "Leaving Nadir", two excellent displays of Occult Metal with astute tempo changes and a haunting atmosphere to keep you awake at night (well, no that much as well, but I'm sure you got my point here too). While a song like "Pay Now - Love Later" is not exactly an homage to Lucifer, for instance, the twisting guitar licks and strong rhythm section are enough to connect it with the more devilish tunes in here. It's pure NWOBHM, but with a bittersweet taste of evilness which is all its own, even if the contents are not that evil in the first place. And oh well, as nearly all branches of Metal derive from something done in the glorious NWOBHM, I guess Black Metal may indeed have a thing or two to do with Witchfynde - and this album would surely be the one to blame (praise?) in such a case. Enjoy it with the lights out, but be sure to lock all doors and windows first, as who knows what kind of naughty creatures it can conjure!

STAGEFRIGHT (LP, Rondelet, 1980) ***

01. Stagefright 02. Doing the Right Thing 03. Would Not Be Seen Dead in Heaven 04. Wake Up Screaming 05. Big Deal 06. Moon Magic 07. In the Stars 08. Trick or Treat 09. Madeleine

The first album of Witchfynde was something of a minor national success in the UK, and soon the quartet was widely regarded as a band to watch. There was reportedly a few inquiries from major labels, but none of it came to fruition, as Rondelet wouldn't even discuss relieving the band from their contract obligations. There was also a change in personnel, with Andro Coulton being given his freedom (the bassist apparently suffering from a lack of commitment, as a few lines in "Big Deal" seem to suggest) and Peter Surgey invited in as a replacement. Despite all that was going on, Witchfynde managed to deliver a second LP in less than a year - and quite an experimental one, to be fair, as "Stagefright" is a markedly different album from its predecessor. The atmosphere surrounding Witchfynde's music was still intact, but a lot of different influences were invited in, with tracks leaning towards hard rock ("Would Not Be Seen Dead in Heaven"), indie rock ("In the Stars") and even pop music (the aforementioned "Big Deal"), all sure to cause a bit of shock in the still-developing fanbase. But Witchfynde was keen to show that it was a case of expanding boundaries rather than any serious wimp-out, as the fantastic title-track (perhaps the strongest song of the entire band's repertoire, with a memorable vocal performance from Steve Bridges), "Trick or Treat" and the excellent "Wake Up Screaming" were more than capable to demonstrate. It's a very varied affair, slightly uneven in places, but I give Witchfynde credit for trying something different in such a small period of time - and mostly with successful results, which is to say something about their songwriting abilities. It's not an easy album to digest (some songs, as the closing ballad "Madeleine", are actually too difficult to swallow), but it gets rewarding with repeated listens, showing that Witchfynde could actually be a serious contender for bigger things if given a modicum of encouragement and orientation. That wasn't to be the case, unfortunately, as soon Rondelet would face serious financial problems - and the once tangible major label siege was no longer there, forcing Witchfynde to sign with the small Expulsion label to give continuity to their career.

CLOAK & DAGGER (LP, Expulsion, 1983) ***

01. The Devil's Playground 02. Crystal Gazing 03. I'd Rather Go Wild 04. Somewhere to Hide 05. Cloak and Dagger 06. Cry Wolf 07. Start Counting 08. Living For Memories 09. Rock & Roll 10. Stay Away 11. Fra Diabolo

After two releases in quick succession, Witchfynde's program of LP releases went to an unexpected (but understandable, given the circumstances) hiatus. Rondelet was in very bad shape and decided to pull out all financial backing for Witchfynde, something that would put the lads into a difficult position when it comes to promote themselves. The only vinyl appearance of Withcfynde would be the track "Belfast", a BBC session highlight included in 1981's "The Friday Rock Show" compilation. It was the first recording with new singer Chalky White - Steve Bridges had some personal issues that couldn't wait for him anymore and packed his bags in early 1981, something that was quite unfortunate if you ask me. After a long period of uncertainty, Witchfynde finally cut their contract ties with Rondelet and signed with the Expulsion label - something of a best-for-everyone situation, as Rondelet owed some serious money to Expulsion and Witchfynde switched labels as a sort of debt payment. In the interim, Chalky White gave up his first name choice (a rather hopeless one, let's face it) and assumed the more Metal-soundind epithet of Luther Beltz. "Cloak and Dagger" finally came out in 1983, and turned out to be a much more direct and less varied affair than its predecessors. Sure, there is still a sense of diversity, but Witchfynde seems determined to keep things raw and simple here, a stratagem that works nicely for some songs but not for others. While tunes such as "I'd Rather Go Wild", "Cry Wolf" (very nice chorus here), "Crystal Gazing" and the title-track surely hit the nail right at the head, other compositions like "Somewhere to Hide", "Stay Away" and "Rock & Roll" (original title, that) sound weak and uninspired in comparision. And Luther Beltz, although a undeniably gifted singer, fatally leads Witchfynde to more usual HM territories, as his voice (a very Rob Halford-ish mix of rough singing and high-pitched screams) bears little resemblance to Steve Bridge's not very technical, but surely unique approach to Metal. They kinda try to move on from their psychedelic influences and adopt a more usual Metal personality - nothing to be ashamed of, that's for sure, but I feel that they lost a bit of their unique approach by choosing this road. Still, it's a nice album for the default NWOBHM fan, and that's why it gets 3 stars in the end of the day. The record production could have been a little better, though.

LORDS OF SIN (LP, Mausoleum, 1984) **

01. The Lord of Sin 02. Stab in the Back 03. Heartbeat 04. Scarlet Lady 05. Blue Devils 06. Hall of Mirrors 07. Wall of Death 08. Conspiracy 09. Red Garters Bonus EP "Anthems": 01. Cloak and Dagger 02. I'd Rather Go Wild 03. Moon Magic 04. Give 'em Hell

After having to endure difficult situations with both Rondelet and Expulsion (their second label went bankrupt soon after "Cloak and Dagger" was released), Witchfynde were more than happy to sign the dotted line for Mausoleum, a well-stablished label with a lot of interesting Metal already under its wing. There was a change in the formation, with bassist Peter Surgey being substituted by Alan Edwards (ex-Panza Division, named on the liner notes as Edd Wolfe for no fathomable reason) in the recording of "Lords of Sin" - but it seemed to be more of an adjustement than anything more serious, so it's fair to say there was good prospects for Witchfynde this fourth time around. It's a bit surprising, therefore, to learn that "Lords of Sin" failed to make any impression in record sales - something that even the bonus EP with 4 live recordings was unable to salvage - although a strict analysis of the musical contents herein may offer good explanatory evidence in this particular case. I guess Withcfynde wanted to assume a more mature personality here, striving to create a polished (yet somber) atmosphere to the album - something that seems to work in some numbers (like "Hall of Mirrors", "Stab in the Back" and "Conspiracy") but fails to cause a good impression most of the time. Sometimes (in "Heartbeat" and the almost-title-track, for instance) things just seem to drag on for far too long, while some of the more upbeat numbers ("Wall of Death" and "Scarlet Lady") are not bad, even a bit enjoyable if you're in the right frame of mind, but are nothing above the line of HM mediocrity to be point-blank honest. Luther Beltz singing is considerably more restrained here, and it works well most of the time, even though I would be more than ready to argue about the adequacy of his voice to some of the cuts here featured. I know the man have a lot of fans (and understandably so), but I always had the feeling the best was yet to come for him, which is a bit odd a feeling, you know. All things considered, "Lords of Sin" is not an album to ashame the dedicated fans (most of them will actually take a fair bit of enjoyment out of it), but it's fair to say that Witchfynde's situation was worrying by this stage - something that came to materialize in relatively short notice, as Mausoleum plunged into financial turmoil (bit of a deja-vu here) and yet another change of the bass-playing department (ex-Race Against Time's Alan Short stepped in for a little while) wasn't enough to keep Witchfynde on the road as needed, something fundamental to boost sales of a rapidly-flopping record. Soon the lads would no longer be blessed by the Powers that Be, and Witchfynde endured a long hiatus - they allegedly never officially split, but it will be over 15 years gone until this NWOBHM monster would come back to haunt us (I mean it in a good way, of course). Maybe it was a necessary time to breathe, although it surely took quite a while longer than first expected.

THE WITCHING HOUR (CD, Neat, 2001) ***

01.The Other Side 02. Stab in the Back 03. You'll Never See it Coming 04. Leaving Nadir 05. Hall of Mirrors 06. In Your Dreams 07. Give 'em Hell 08. Conspiracy 09. Wake Up Screaming

After a bit of sabbatical (well, a very long one indeed, but I guess they needed a break anyway), Montalo (G) and Gra Scoresby (D) decided to give Witchfynde another chance to shine, a decision that was surely encouraged by the consistent underground adulation the band received through the years. Peter Surgey (B) agreed to rejoin the band, but there was a bit of acrimony going on in the vocal department, as not only Luther Beltz would not agree to rejoin his old mates, but also decided to spawn his own Wytchfynde, with a minor change in spelling just to keep those dreaded lawsuits away. Unwilling to let Luther Beltz have fun on his own, the Montalo-Surgey-Scoresby nucleus recruited singer Harry Harrison (ex-Night Vision) and signed the dotted line with Neat. It was a curious situation indeed: after a decade and a half with no signs of life from Witchfynde, now we had two different band incarnations operating at the same time... Luther Beltz's Wytchfynde released a CD called "The Awakening" in 2001 (I didn't like it that much when I first heard it, but it's been a while ago so I promise to review it in the near future), while the more recognizable version of Witchfynde came out with "The Witching Hour" the same year. It was a case of revisiting their previous repertoire rather than a full-scale return to studio recordings, as most of the songs here featured are re-recordings from old classics (not a single song from "Cloak and Dagger", surprisingly) with a few new numbers to make things more interesting. I always felt a bit uncomfortable with new versions from old songs (let's face it, you seldom hear something to scare the hell out of the originals, no matter how competent the reworkings are), but I guess "The Witching Hour" serves its purpose as a good way to reintroduce Witchfynde into the Metal market. The new numbers are actually quite good (opening track "The Other Side" is particularly strong) and settle comfortably alongside old ditties such as "Leaving Nadir", "Stab in the Back", "Wake Up Screaming" and "Conspiracy", all laid down on tape with commendable levels of proficiency and enthusiasm. Harry Harrison has a strong, deeper voice which (in my humble but honest opinion) fits well enough into Witchfynde's material, so I guess there's nothing to be worried about when it comes to vocal performance here. They were still owing us an all-new CD in the not-too-distant futute, but "The Witching Hour" is a decent comeback and I'm sure all Wichfynde fans welcomed it with open arms.

PLAY IT TO DEATH (CD, Neat, 2008) ***

01. Play it to Death 02. Holy Ground 03. Elements 04. Sticks and Stones 05. The Darkest Places 06. Life's a Killer 07. Three Wise Monkeys 08. Shame the Devil 09. Love Like Sin 10. Paint it Black

After another somewhat long hiatus (I don't know, maybe they weren't in a hurry after all), Witchfynde managed to release a CD full of originals, the first such release in no less than 24 years. It was a long time to wait, that's for sure, and the expectations were understandably very high. Fortunately, "Play it to Death" is good enough to meet the required standards - although I would not say it's a flawless album after all. Harry Harrison's voice, that works well enough on "The Witching Hour" CD, doesn't come out that unscathed this time around - I don't know how to explain, but it seems to me he's just trying too hard to sound somber and give the songs a darker edge, something that gets quite annoying in tunes such as "Holy Ground" and the title track. I don't like the opening song that much by the way - not only the singing leaves to be desired, but the composition seems loosely put together, despite some good ideas on the instrumental side of things. When good man Hank just go there and sing it, his results are way more enjoyable - he does a great job out of Rolling Stone's "Paint it Black" (one of the two covers here, the other being Robin Trower's "Shame the Devil"), and "Sticks and Stones" (one of the finest moments of the entire CD), just to name a few. Despite the shortcomings, Witchfynde was in a creative period and "Play it to Death" shows it in no uncertain terms, as many of the songs here featured are actually great pieces of songwriting, such as "The Darkest Places", "Three Wise Monkeys" and the excellent, grandiose semi-ballad "Love Like Sin" (good performance from Harry Harrison here too). Montalo shows just how inventive he is, with lots of interesting riffs and harmonies. I love the way Pete Surgey's bass sounds in this recording: heavy, intense, full of energy and presence. And drummer Gra Scoresby always knew how to do his job, so his confident and strong performance won't surprise any NWOBHM enthusiasts. All things considered, "Play it to Death" is an album sure to get periodic spins at your sound system if you're already into Witchfynde - maybe newcomers to Heavy Metal won't bother to give it a chance, but I'm sure these musicians will be more than happy on doing their thing regardless of anything else, which is very respectable if you ask me. It's about time for another album anyway, I guess - and I'm sure many fans are even more expectant now that Luther Beltz settled his differences with the other guys and returned to the mike stand, following Harry Harrison's departure for ill health and personal issues. Things have been quiet in the Witchfynde front recently - Gra Scoresby was submitted to a couple surgeries in 2012, which kept the band in a understandable low profile for a while. Still, they are pretty much a going concern, and a collection CD with raw recordings from 1975 saw the light of day in 2013 (a CD we're sure to review as soon as we get our hands on it). Long live Witchfynde, and blessed be! (you didn't thought you would get away without it, did you?)

Have you been involved with any of the bands mentioned here? Have any extra info and/or corrections? Please e-mail me at and let me know!

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