From the first moments of opening teaser “Maleficus,” British doom coven Witchsorrow make their loyalties clear. Worship doom, crush oppression, and let volume be your only master. Whether it’s the bruising title track or the black-denim boogie of “The Devil’s Throne,” Witchsorrow conjure the heaviness from doom’s rich history, invoking luminaries from Witchfinder General to Electric Wizard. While frontman Necroskull, co-founding bassist Emily Witch, and drummer David Wilbrahammer all seem like students of slow ‘n’ heavy, their new record Hexenhammer isn’t some derivative throwback tugging at Reverend Bizarre’s frock.
Out May 25th from Candlelight/Spinefarm, Hexenhammer features Witchsorrow at their deadliest yet. The doom trio feed No Light, Only Fire‘s enduring heat with a fresh batch of riffs that roar into a full-fledged pyre. “Demons of the Mind” is a pitch-black inward journey that relents only briefly for soaring vocal hooks. From the occult groove of “Eternal” and the simmering psych of “The Parish” to the unexpected blastbeats punctuating “Like Sisyphus,” Witchsorrow texture their album with bold choices and sinister intentions. Like the flames engulfing the album cover’s victims, Hexenhammer is a concentrated inferno that rages until the album’s last gasp of feedback.
Below, check out vocalist/guitarist Necroskull’s thoughts on the witch tragedies that inspire the band, his favorite apocalyptic tales in pop culture, technology-based fears, and what to expect from Witchsorrow when they crush a stage near you. But first, press play and pound your ears with Hexenhammer.
After the release of 2015’s No Light, Only Fire did you have any specific goals for how you wanted Hexenhammer to sound?
Necroskull: On No Light... we really wanted to make a proudly heavy metal doom record. I think this time it just came naturally to continue down such a path—it’s almost like we can’t help turning everything into heavy metal! Over the course of our records, it’s become more of a part of us, and we’ve just grown in a way that balances doom and just being total heavy metal maniacs. Even when we got to the Skyhammer Studio to record with Chris Fielding, he already had ideas for what he was going to do, he just automatically thinks about that ’80s metal side to us, as well as capturing the doom heaviness.
What brought you back to collaborate with Chris Fielding at Skyhammer Studios once again?
N: Chris is a very important part of Witchsorrow now. He’s a studio genius, and he’s really good at helping you find that last 10% in an idea to really put a full stop on a song. As a co-conspirator, it’s important to know you can just do your thing and trust that whatever he’s doing is right and good. Also, we’re quite closed off as a band—other people don’t get invited in very easily, most people aren’t allowed to get too close. But there’s just something about working with Chris where he’s on exactly the same level as us. Plus he’s got lots of fun stuff to play with in the studio, old amps and pedals and things.
Hexenhammer is named after a treatise on witchcraft that endorsed torturing accused witches. Also, one of your first recorded songs was “The Trial of Elizabeth Clarke.” What about that dark period of witch hunters inspires you lyrically and thematically?
N: Witches have always been very important in doom, to me. Plus I’m a massive fan of the band Witchfinder General! There’s just a very doomy atmosphere around all that stuff. Some of it’s purely aesthetic, like the old religious imagery and so forth. But as a doom character, witches can represent a lot. First, damnation and suffering, but also vengeance, challenging authority, scapegoating, loss of identity, sin and temptation, hatred, all sorts of stuff.
Also, as I say, witches are just pretty key to me as doom figures. All the best doom bands had at least one witch song—witches are just cool! We didn’t really have one on No Light…, so I felt like I had to have one this time. It actually came up when Emily Witch and I were in this torture museum in Germany. She saw it on one of the exhibits and went ‘Ooh yeah, we’re keeping that.’ I thought it was some kind of big hammer with spikes on it you’d use to fuck people up, but it was the book, the Malleus Maleficarum, which was basically the handbook for persecuting witches. Some of the stuff in it is ridiculous, particularly with several hundred years of hindsight, but there’s all sorts of authority still that just feels like it’s going to be laughed at in years to come. That song kind of goes everywhere on the witch theme—some lines are from a witch’s point of view, others are about crushing witches. By the end it’s just everyone killing everyone with one another’s weapons. There’s also an element that’s about how proud we are of doom, a bit like Doom Over The World by Reverend Bizarre. From that angle, it’s about proudly being what you are and not giving a fuck what anyone else thinks, even if you do end up occasionally on the outside.
There’s also an apocalyptic theme throughout the record. In your opinion, what have been the most poignant depictions of the world’s end in music, literature, film, etc?
N: Have you ever seen the film Threads? It was made by the BBC in the early ‘80s, and it only aired once, I think. It’s terrifying. It’s about what would happen if a nuclear bomb fell on a British city, in this case Sheffield. On God Curse Us, there’s the sample about “the horror of survival” after a nuclear strike (from WarGames). This film is about that—all the preparations and contingency plans go to Hell straight away, everything falls apart, there’s people eating rats, people with awful burns, agriculture fails… It’s one of the most terrifying things ever aired on British TV, and for British people of a certain age, it really did leave a mark. Sadly, I think that’s what we have to look forward to as a species: a slow death where things we take for granted fail, and those invisible, imaginary walls that hold everything up are revealed to be useless. It won’t be a meteor strike or anything spectacular, it’ll be a long, slow, cold, hungry doom that lasts years.
Also, a bit more Blockbusting, but I think things that warn of the dangers of AI and technology are important as well: Terminator, The Matrix, Alien, 2001. I absolutely hate the idea of machines that can think for themselves, and now we’ve all got one in our pocket. It’s far-fetched to think that a Skynet situation is going to happen, but the idea of computers being allowed to make decisions and judgements makes my skin crawl, but it’s being developed. I think it’s really creepy, and no good will come of it, ultimately.
You have a series of live shows scheduled the week of your record’s release, as well as other summer gigs lined up. For those who haven’t been indoctrinated, what can audiences expect from your performances?
N: Absolute metal mania! Heaviness, volume, feet on the monitors and maximum head banging!
What’s next for Witchsorrow in 2018, and beyond?
More shows, hopefully a decent support tour, hopefully heading to Europe, possibly further afield. Beware…