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Witchfinder General - Live '83
Review: From a time when the place of metal as a separate genre was not so clear, Witchfinder General is a fusion between the hard rock (Led Zeppelin) and proto-metal (Black Sabbath) of the early 1970s, and as the thus prototypical NWOBHM mixture are prone to immensely stimulant, rampaging riffing that melds electric blues hooks to the reverberant drone of power chord chains. Unlike many of said acts, Witchfinder General embrace the ballad form from English folk music -- this does not mean the rock "ballad," or weepy slow song -- which uses an elaborate introduction and main verse-chorus pair that changes after the song has completed transition between starting and ending stages of the action it describes. Not all songs fit this format; many are radio-friendly three minute wonders, so when the band deviates it is welcome.
Like Black Sabbath, this band tends to drop into introductory phrasal cycles before reaching a solo or bridge, but like many of the blues and jam bands which preceded them in the English rock tradition, they favor a layered approach to the details of playing or accent applied to a dominant theme of essential rhythm paired to tone progression. Lead guitar falls into the mixture of oddly repetitive recursive blues solos that migrate at random to different scale patterns, much in the style of Black Sabbath but clearly sharing influences. The vocalist sounds exactly like a buffer Ozzy Osbourne, but in unguarded moments reveals his greater range and discipline; drums and bass are of a style familiar to most rock of the era. The rock/metal heritage of this act can be seen in the variance of riffs within a song where an urgent uptempo throb shares space with a doomy five-note progression as well as a strobing of individually picked notes of a chord in the rock style; thanks to the superb melodic ear of the vocalist and rhythm playing of the guitarist it works.
Clearly this band influenced others -- "Witchfinder General" shares a rhythm with Iron Maiden's "Wrathchild" and "Love on Smack" gifted Cathedral's "Soul Sacrifice" with its main riff, although in the Witchfinder General song it is a layered variation on a broader meme. At their best, this band cut classic ear-invoking, motion sensation riffing and are able to back it up with creative rhythm playing that keeps it from falling into circularity. It is easy to see why so many were influenced by the leap between the rock past and the metal future represented by these English musicians, and this live performance preserves the dynamism that propelled this music in its native habitat.