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(58:53, Black Widow Records)
TRACK LIST: 1. The Burial of Count Orgaz Intro 1:22 2. Edina's Escape from Cancer City 6:21 3. The Mask of the Demon 9:04 4. High Tide Symphony 6:00 5. Void in the Life 8:24 6. I Curse My Fate 5:23 7. Totentanz 3:10 8. Inquisitor 5:59 9. Witchfield / The Black Widow 5:07 10. Imagination Vortex 6:47 11. The Burial of Count Orgaz Finale 1:16 LINEUP: Thomas “Hand” Chaste – drums; keyboards John Goldfinch – lead & backing vocals Ilario Suppressa – guitars Andy Cardellino – guitars Baka Bomb – bass With: Clive Jones – flute, sax (5, 8) Steve Sylvester – vocals (9)
Prolusion. Hailing from the town of Pesaro in central Italy, WITCHFIELD was put together in 2006 by Andrea Vianelli, aka Thomas Hand Chaste, former drummer of legendary doom metal act Death SS. “Sleepless”, their debut album, sees the participation of former Death SS vocalist, Steve Sylvester, and Black Widow’s saxophonist and flautist, Clive Jones.
Analysis. Doom metal is not a subgenre of rock that anyone would immediately associate with Italy. However, in spite of the stereotyped idea of Italian music as romantic and uplifting, over the years Italy has given rise to a number of bands pledging their allegiance to the darker side of rock – which in recent times have found a home at the Genoa headquarters of Black Widow Records. Along with more prog-oriented acts such as Jacula and its offshoot Antonius Rex, a band from Pesaro called by the rather disturbing name of Death SS (whose thirty-year activity ended for good in 2008) managed to gain some recognition outside its home country, and became a cult outfit for those fascinated in equal measure by occult themes and glam-horror theatrics in the style of Alice Cooper. As a member of Death SS at the height of their success (1977-1984), and then of another band dealing with similar topics (though in a more sophisticated, understated way), Paul Chain Violet Theatre, Thomas Hand Chaste has always been fascinated by that ‘darker side’ – the heavy, distorted, haunting sounds championed by Black Sabbath and Black Widow (a huge influence on Death SS) in the late Sixties and early Seventies, and later adopted by both the doom-metal and the stoner-rock movement in later decades –as well as all the trappings of the genre, from the Gothic imagery to the occult-tinged lyrics. Right from the red-and-black, vaguely disturbing cover, “Sleepless” is indeed a textbook example of old-school doom metal. The lavishly illustrated booklet inside shows a series of images that veer from the esoteric to the plainly macabre: all carefully chosen to illustrate each of the songs. The titles also appear as a sort of catalogue of the clich?s of the genre, with references to demons, burials, and curses. In addition, the lyrics to four of the eleven tracks are based on the work of English-language writers such as William Blake (a favourite of prog and metal bands) and Shakespeare himself – emphasizing the somewhat erudite pretensions of the band, who, even image-wise, seem to have taken a step back from the more kitschy, gaudy elements of Death SS. Quite predictably, “Sleepless” opens with sounds of church organ and female chanting, then plunges headlong into the doomy, Sabbathy riffing of Edina’s Escape from Cancer City, undoubtedly one of the highlights of the album. John “G.C.” Goldfinch’s vocals have a slight rough edge that sets them apart from the shrill, plaintive tones of Ozzy Osbourne and his imitators – though they often manage to achieve that monotonous, slightly menacing quality so prized in the genre. This song, like most of the others featured on the album, is characterised by a plodding mid-tempo, layers of harsh-sounding riffs, and occasional, though barely perceptible changes of pace. Interestingly, the lead guitar parts have a clean, sharp tone quite unlike Tony Iommi’s wall-of-sound approach, and at times (for instance in Inquisitor) can remind the listener of Iron Maiden, while on other tracks it seems to imitate other instruments, such as the bagpipes in the second half of I Curse My Fate, or the inevitable tolling bells in High Tide Symphony (whose title made me wonder about a possible reference to the seminal band of the late Sixties). Since we are dealing with a strongly codified genre such as doom metal, the music featured on “Sleepless” is overall rather simple in terms of structure, and the progressive touches are few and far between – with one notable exception, Void in the Life, to which the presence of Black Widow’s Clive Jones on flute and sax adds more than a touch of dissonant, free-form improvisation to what would ordinarily be just another doomy workout much like the rest of the album. Totentanz (“Dance of Death”) is an organ solo with occasional chanting; while the cover of Alice Cooper’s The Black Widow is a definitely more upbeat offering with some catchy moments, in spite of being introduced by thunderstorm and rain in the best Black Sabbath tradition (the song, not the band). As clearly pointed out in the previous paragraphs, originality is somewhat thin on the ground here – which does not mean the album is unpleasant to listen to, or badly executed. However, I believe the band can do much better than just reproduce sounds and themes already explored hundreds of times in the past forty years.
Conclusion. “Sleepless” is definitely a niche album, mainly targeted to devotees of the classic doom metal sounds of the Seventies and onwards, but probably a tad too simplistic and cliched for traditional progressive rock fans. On the other hand, it does offer some interesting moments, and the band members are accomplished enough to be able to produce something less derivative and more personal in the near future.
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