Hailing from Hampshire in southern England, Witchsorrow have been painted as the latest in a long line of great British purveyors of the dark art of doom metal since the release of their self-titled debut album in 2010. Deeply oppressive and unrelentingly bleak, the record displayed enough potential to carry the band all the way to a headline slot on the Jagermeister stage for the UK leg of last year’s Sonisphere festival where they drew a substantial crowd despite going head-to-head against Metallica.
Another year on and Witchsorrow are back with their sophomore release, “God Curse Us”. In most regards, not a great deal has changed. The trio’s line-up remains unaltered with guitarist/vocalist Nekroskull, bassist/pianist Emily Witch and drummer Wilbrahammer all returning to duty and recording once again taking place in Foel Studios in a remote part of the Welsh countryside, the birthplace of Primordial’s “To The Nameless Dead”.
Around two thirds of “God Curse U”s is devoted to the old school archetypal British doom that has already become Witchsorrow’s signature sound. Think Black Sabbath, Witchfinder General, Electric Wizard and you’re in the right ballpark. Songs like opener “Aurora Atra”, the title track and “Masters of Nothing” build up thick layers of atmosphere around slow, crushingly heavy monolithic riffs, gradually upping the ante over the course of five or six minutes. Then, without warning, everything is turned upside down and the band close with a couple of minutes of high speed (by doom standards), groove-laden fury.
There’ s the occasional deviation from the formula – “Megiddo” is a little bit more dynamic and features an extended climax – but there’s an unshakeable feeling that you’re hearing variations on the same theme over and over again. That’s not to say that the songs themselves aren’t well constructed, because they certainly are, but it would have been nice to see a few more ideas thrown into the mix.
As well as having one of the best song titles I’ve seen this year, “Breaking the Lore” changes things up quite a bit and actually owes a lot more to sludge than to the rest of the record’s doom metal parentage. Tempos chop and change and there’s a welcome sense of urgency about the verses that contrasts with the other tracks yet never really feels out of place. Closing number “Den of Serpents” reverts to type with another glacial build up/furious release routine though additional instrumentation is brought in to bolster the already leaden atmosphere. The squalling feedback of the album’s dying minutes creates an overwhelming sensation of being trapped in the middle of storm and sends “God Curse Us Out” with a something approaching a bang.
Although Witchsorrow’s latest release is a competent and well executed hour-long slab of doom metal, I find it quite difficult to get excited about. There just isn’t enough imagination or variety on display here; the band keeps retreading the same ground over and over and an inevitable monotony quickly sets in on repeated listens. It could be argued that one shouldn’t approach a doom metal record expecting fireworks but Candlemass’s “Psalms For The Dead” has only recently reminded us that portentous riffs and engaging songwriting need not be mutually exclusive. As second albums go, “God Curse Us” isn’t a bad one but it’s clear that Witchsorrow still have some work to do before they can claim a place alongside the greats of British doom metal.