Formed in 2005, WItchsorrow began life as a tribute to the dark purity of doom. Heavily influenced by the likes of Sabbath, St Vitus, Candlemass, Reverend Bizarre and their ilk, Witchsorrow’s early sound was held in thrall to the masters that had preceded it. In the subsequent five years, via a second album (2012’s ‘God curse us’) and an EP (2013’s ‘De Mysteriis doom Sabbathas’), the band developed their sound, remaining true to the tenets of doom but injecting a healthy dose of their own personality into the mix and the resulting ‘No light, only fire’ (2015) is a crushing statement of intent from the band that ranks as the most powerfully apocalyptic work Witchsorrow has yet released.
Perhaps a testament to the power of that album, as well as a sure sign that doom has once more gained a place, however slight, in the public consciousness, Witchsorrow have had a remarkable year, playing bleak, gut-wrenching sets at Bloodstock, Hard Rock Hell Doom Vs Stoner and even Download (alongside Electric Wizard and Black Sabbath). Taking the opportunity to hook up with drummer Dave and singer/guitarist Necroskull following their blazing set at Doom Vs Stoner, we caught up with the band’s early inspiration, the genesis of Necroskull’s lyrics and much more. Welcome to a world gone wrong; welcome to the world of Witchsorrow…
Witchsorrow started out as a project that represented your passion for doom and, over time, you’ve developed a definable Witchsorrow sound, and I wanted to ask where you see the line between paying tribute to the bands you love and that creative spark that allows an artist to develop an original sound?
Necroskull: No one’s called us original before… To be honest, when I started the band I had a really narrow vision of what I wanted the band to be, it was really narrow, I wanted to be Black Sabbath, Candlemass, reverend bizarre, St Vitus, trouble. It was a very small, select group – the proper fabric of real doom metal and I was really stubborn about it and set in my ways. And I think we still have that and when we started, that was my vision. AT that time, there really wasn’t a lot of doom around. Vitus hadn’t got back together, Pentagram hadn’t got back together, Electric Wizard were… pretty much dying in a ditch, they were not in a good way. Cathedral weren’t doing a lot, Orange Goblin had turned into a punk band and there was this select group of bands that was very, very stubbornly, proudly, original doom – gates of slumber, reverend bizarre and that, and I was dead in love with it, I thought it was brilliant, and I decided I wanted to start my own band like that because I wanted to have a heavy band since I was at school… I’ve got riff tapes form when I was fourteen/fifteen – me ripping off Electric Wizard (not that it was any good – terrible!) but that was what I was obsessed with when I was a kid, I got really, really into it when I was really young. I remember that I was fifteen when I bought ‘come my fanatics’ and I used to sit and listen to it at lunchtime at school.
Necroskull : But, as far as you say, about evolving, I think the thing is that, when you’re writing it starts to get boring, so you start to think about what you can do with a riff or with a certain bit to make it not boring. It’s very easy with this kind of music to become a boring dirge, so I don’t want that and I’ve seen enough bands when that can happen, and I think we’ve learnt to say ‘no!’ to that kind of stuff and stop it. Sometimes you’ll play a riff, like ‘to the gallows’, which is a really fast song, it’s sort of a black metal riff, really, but it kind of works for us because it’s sort of what we think we are and what we want to be. This proudly heavy metal band, but I think one of our main inspirations is maybe Primordial. They’re one of my favourite bands and I love just how much Alan, the singer, is obsessed with heavy metal. I wanted that, you can have your own sound, but also we’re just like Motorhead as well, and that’s how we’ve not changed exactly, but we’ve grown from out of it. We were never… I think maybe we never thought about how we play, we were never really able to articulate that part of ourselves, but that’s how our sound developed.
That evolution has also led you to bigger stages. The first time we saw you was in a very small, dingy club and this year you’ve played Download, Bloodstock, here… do you think that taking that time to evolve has helped you to adjust to the larger stages and deal with the larger crowds in a better way than if you’d landed here straight away?
Necroskull: Yeah, I think we spent… every time we do a record, we start trying to write stuff and then we think “this is really boring!” and start trying to do something else – we need to think of some way to make it more interesting, so maybe use a riff as an intro
Dave: Right – The Witchsorrow formula – a slow bit followed by a fast bit at the end. We can do that a million times but on the most recent album, there is a lot of that… but there are also a lot fo fast riffs
Necroskull: In terms of the gigs getting better, I think we spent so long just playing that we’ve kind of realised that … something just clicked one day.
Dave: it’s not a conscious thing, we just naturally evolved, we didn’t think ‘oh we’re going to evolve’ and suddenly you’re playing Bloodstock and Download and all this kind of stuff, it just kind of happened.
Necroskull: I think as I’ve got older and… more miserable, I haven’t got time to… I’d see videos form earlier gigs where I would talk a lot between songs…
Dave: Now, no…
Necroskull: I used to say all sorts of nonsense. If it was a Friday night and Peep show was on, I’d start talking about that, and it’s things like that. It’s not that I’m saying ‘no talking’… but little things like that…
Dave: We’re not pissed as well!
Necroskull: When you go on stage at Download as well, when you’re doing something like that, you have to crank it up a bit more but you are on the same bill as All time low and against the current and all these sorts of bands, but also you’ve got a responsibility to all your mates who are in other doom bands, like OHHMS for example, you have to be as metal as you can be – you have to be louder than normal, heavier than normal, you have to really pull out all the stops. Because you’re there, you’re the one tiny little flag for the doom scene… Other than Electric Wizard and Black Sabbath of course… But it’s like if we fail, it’s not just us, it’s not us looking like dicks, it’s all of the underground doom scene. We had to be good. And then when I went on stage one of my pedals had unplugged itself and it took me a while to realise what was going on… Carry on Witchsorrow!
Looking back at some of the interviews you’ve done, one of the things that people always ask about is that it was you and your wife that started the band and “is it an issue” and yet it seems to me that it would be a massive advantage to the band that you guys go out and do these things together?
Dave: For them…
You’re just a gooseberry!
Dave: Well, I’ve just recently got married, so these guys are like “Yeah, we can do this gig, we can do that gig…” every other weekend whereas I’ve got to tread a bit carefully sometimes. I can’t do every weekend, but yeah, for them I imagine it’s great!
Necroskull: Instead of going on holiday, we’ll go to Germany and do a gig… put it like that and it’s our weekend away, great! And we get to do it together. We haven’t got children so it’s kind of what we do. It’s our main thing – we’re so dedicated to it, we don’t even notice it anymore – it’s all we think about and do. So yeah, if we go away to something, we don’t really have to think about it, because it’s the pair of us, but poor old Dave, leaving his missus at home…
Dave: and I’m in another band as well, so it’s even worse… but we make it work.
What would you say are your primary influences lyrically?
Necroskull: I’m a miserable bastard so… the thing is that there is a side of me where I’m kind of a jolly guy and I like to have a laugh but I just moan about a lot of little things which niggle away at me. I was saying to someone earlier, put me in a traffic jam and you’ll see a really nice guy, but I get really, thoroughly worried about the world. I do believe we are living in a very dangerous time because… I know a lot of it is amplifies because we’re on Facebook and there’s rolling news all the time and so you hear about this stuff constantly. I imagine, during World War two, say, the public had a very different mindset because they only had the papers and the BBC news on the radio. It wasn’t like they were constantly plugged in to every tiny development in the war. Whereas now, if something happens in America, you hear about it straight away and then you’re bombarded by it. But I think there is a ramification because I’m worried continuously because things are fucked. Pollution, global warming, the ice caps melting and you think about all that and then people making really bad decisions on top of that – the very possibility that Donald Trump could have a nuclear code byt the end of the year is horrible, because he’s a man who might use them. It’s seen as being really bad form to launch nuclear weapons, but he doesn’t care, so he might do, who knows? And things like that just worry me constantly. I read the paper every day and you see all about all these problems – the NHS, overpopulation, you worry about homelessness and you look at these things and you see part of a bigger picture where you think “Christ! Everything is awful and no-one’s doing anything…” It’s going to take huge steps to undo all this, and it’s not likely to happen, so it’s just going to get worse and worse and worse. I get annoyed by that, but then I get annoyed by everything. I get annoyed if the train’s late, I get annoyed if I’m held up at the bar. Things get on my nerves! But when it comes to misanthropy in the lyrics, it’s sort of a place where I can moan without people having a go at me about it. For example if I start kicking off in front of Emily, she’s not having any of it, she just doesn’t entertain it at all and she gets annoyed with me. So I can have my six-year-old girl’s tantrum in the lyrics and say what I want, because that’s constructive because the band are like “hey, you’ve written the lyrics to that song, that’s good!” I can get away with it! There’s just an ingrained bitterness. I’m nearly thirty-three and my entire adult life I’ve been worrying about everything, a sort of depression thing nagging away at the back of my head. I don’t really see a bright future and I see the present as being not a nice of time. So I don’t worry about the future because there isn’t going to be one.
Necroskull – yeah I’m an old man. He (Dave) turned thirty yesterday and he started to notice all these weird things… Today we went for lunch and Emily said that both of us were making the same old man noises after we’d finished, and packing our stomachs…
Dave: Anyone got a Rennie?
How much work do you put into, not so much song-writing, but sequencing the album, once the songs are written, so that there’s a flow across the record?
Necroskull: Well there are some tracks that like… we wrote a song like ‘Made of the void’, with that intro, I wanted that to be the song that we would play second in a set, because it comes in really quite quick and it’s quite simple: it’s almost like a pop song in the way it’s laid out – verse/chorus/verse/chorus/middle/end and sometimes we’re clear on where something’s going. And sometimes… I had a sequence in my head laid out and Emily wrote down her version of it one day and that’s the one we went with in the end. But at the time I looked at it and “nah! Not having that, no, no, no!”
Dave: Quite often you see the set in a certain way. We recorded it all and then we had the tracks at the end and we were moving them around, shuffling them around to see where they were going and you kind of hear a version and you think, “yeah, that’s the way” and then someone suggests something else… Emily’s quite good at working it out, to be fair, and you make a few changes, you get peaks and valleys and it works.
Necroskull: There is some stuff where you’re like that’s definitely the opening song, because we’ve written it that way and that one goes at the end because you can’t really follow it… you know, and there’s the idle and you can have a plan all mapped out and then Emily came along with a new one and after a week of saying no, we’re not doing that, we realised it was actually a really good idea.
Final question, then: artwork is so important in metal – all of the bands you mentioned at the start like Reverend Bizarre and Sabbath and so on have such iconic artwork and present themselves in a certain way. How involved are you in the selection of art for your work?
Necroskull: Well, this time way more than on any other time. The first album, Rise Above had a designer who does all their stuff, so they asked us what we wanted on the album and I had in my mind that I wanted it to look like ‘Salvation’s answer’ by Revelation, you know, that kind of vibe, so very sort of Renaissance art, and he came back with a few options and the one with the painting really spoke to me. Immediately, we just looked at it and “that’s the one!” The second album, we set this thing up, we set this photo up at a house with this skull and, this time Emily said – Emily’s really articulate, I’m not very visual at all, I can’t draw, I draw like a ten year old, my handwriting’s crap; but she’s really arty – and she said that she had an idea for the design. My input was basically that I wanted to have a cover that either looked like the first Bathory album or ‘welcome to hell’ by Venom, where there’s just an image on its own. And she said, “well, we can’t have a head because that’s crap and it’s been done, we have to make up our own and I don’t have any ideas, and neither have you”, so we got the chap who plays in a band called Funeral Throne ( a black metal band) he plays in a few other bands as well and he’s really, really good. Emily sent him this vague brief that said what the album was, what we were after, and we sent a few things back and forth and once he started adding nooses and stuff I got back into it, you know the skull, the fire…
You turned in to Beavis, basically…
Necroskull: yeah – the two greatest music critics of all time! That’s quite a good litmus test in a metal band – would Beavis and Butthead like this? Is this cool or does it suck? If you’ve got some totally amazing riff that rocks, they’d like that but if you’ve got some boring dirge… what would they say? How hard would they make fun of it – it’s a good way of doing quality control!