Cathedral left such a gaping hole in the doom metal scene when they dissolved back in 2013. Sure, they dabbled in some rather goofy disco moments, and 2010’s The Guessing Game was an exercise in headfuckery, but when they brought the heavy, it was delivered by a fleet of Mack trucks. Calling them a massive influence would be understating the obvious in extremes. So when younger bands such as Hampshire’s Witchsorrow come along with a sound eerily like their forefathers, I tend to get a bit weary. Now on their fourth album, Hexenhammer, the British trio hope to impress the grumpy old man-cat from Blashyrkh, Florida…
And impress, they do! After a short, downtrodden intro full of doomy riffs and slow rhythms, they lurch right into the title track, with a sound not too distant from Cathedral‘s Forest of Equilibrium, with Necroskull riffing and howling like a less-guttural Lee Dorrian, only without the wackiness or odd ad-libs. Emily Witch and David Wilbrahammer lay a solid foundation of bass and drums (respectively) as Necroskull delivers riff after solid riff. The song slows down to a crawl by the midway point, crawling until I almost lose interest, but they redeem themselves by returning to slightly faster, more groovy waters.
When calling upon your idols, you want to do your influences proud while injecting a bit of your own flavor into a well-worn (and well-respected) formula. Witchsorrow stumbles a bit in terms of finding their own identity. As I’m listening to the album, all I keep thinking about is how much I miss Cathedral. Still, the songs are mostly good-to-great. Album highlight “Demons of the Mind” stands out by being the least Cathedral-like, as the song just marches and hammers along with immeasurable heft and command, and Necroskull’s howling voice resonates powerfully during the chorus, lingering in your mind long after the song plays out. And with one exception, the album maintains a great sense of groove and power.
Helping things immensely is the thick, warm production. Witch’s bass cuts through the mire while Necroskull’s leads and riffs soar. The sticking points that I have are few but greatly noticeable. One, the songs tend to stretch out for a bit too long, with closer “Like Sisyphus” being the biggest offender. While the rest of the songs were fortified by the anchor-like weight of their choruses, “Like Sisyphus” just bored me to tears, and it happens to be the longest song on the album at over eight minutes. The other point of contention lies in some of Necroskull’s leads. He’s a good guitarist, but none of his leads, save for “Demons of the Mind,” left a memorable imprint.
Still, Witchsorrow made the loss of one of my favorite doom metal bands of all time a bit less painful, as Hexenhammer, at its best, hits with all the force of Thor in a bad mood. With some fine-tuning, I can see them and their Sabbath-worshiping riffs take hold of many more followers in time. From what I’ve heard so far, this is promising, and I await more from them.