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Necroskull - Witchsorrow

Interview with Necroskull from Witchsorrow
by Christopher Hawkins at 13 October 2018, 4:02 AM

Smoldering away in the dark corners of metal since BLACK SABBATH birthed it with that immortal tritone, doom has lurked in the shadows for decades, waiting for the earth’s lost souls to find their solace in it. Following in the footsteps of SABBATH, SAINT VITUS, CANDLEMASS, TROUBLE, CATHEDRAL, REVERED BIZZARE, and countless other greats who have carried the torch for this genre are Hampshire doom disciples WITCHSORROW – a triumvirate for whom this music is a calling, an obsession.

Formed by singer/guitarist Necroskull and bassist Emily Witch to embody their love for the form, from their first embers in 2006, WITCHSORROW's puritanical devotion to doom has become their life’s work. Armed with riffs forged in the same Iommian fires as their doom metal forebears, they have fanatically explored the genre for new sparks to stoke the fire – all the time biting their thumb at the world they hate. And with the riffs, misanthropy and pure doom worship of 2010’s self-titled debut, 2012’s Armageddon-invoking "God Curse Us," and the heavy metal thunder of 2015’s "No Light, Only Fire," WITCHSORROW have earned a reputation as one of the UK’s finest underground doom outfits. They recently released their latest offering "Hexenhammer," and Metal Temple's own editor Chris Hawkins recently had the chance to speak with Necroskull.

First, congratulations are in order for the new album.  It sounds decidedly more Metal.  Was that a conscious effort/decision?  If so, what led to it?

Thank you. We wanted to make a very heavy metal album, but we’ve sort of always felt like that. We’re very proud to be a metal band, we embrace it, and each time we make a record we lift that flame a little bit higher. I don’t really like playing sludgy, I like that Candlemass/Trouble/Solitude Aeturnus sound – one of my favourite newer doom bands are Procession, who are very much a HM band, and proud with it. It’s kind of conscious, I suppose, but it’s just who we are and where we go when we play or think about our music – it’s kind of all we know! We’re just metal maniacs. Doom is my obsession, but I’ve always leaned towards the metal end of it when I’ve played it. Like, I need to write proper songs, and I think it’s that where the huge footprints of Iron Maiden and Metallica and Judas Priest and Angel Witch or whoever come through.

What’s been quite pleasing this time around is that people have been commenting that it’s a very metal album, and we’ve had a few gig booking where the promoter’s said they want something a bit more ‘metal’ to break up a load of funeral bands or whatever. I remember when we played a doom fest in Romania, there was loads of funeral doom bands, then us. Everyone went nuts because it was such a change of pace, and I liked that that’s kind of where we fit into the world now. When I see bands, I like the ones that have more of a metal presence to them – Wizard, Destroyer 666, Watain, Primordial, stuff like that – chains and spikes and headbanging and feet on the monitor!

Was it intentional to create more succinct songs with "Hexenhammer?"

Sort of. This time, because I came up with quite a lot of ideas alone and stitched them together in a basic way before taking them to Emily and Dave (which is something I’ve always struggled to do before), it felt like there was more of a song there before we started playing it together. There’s also a bit from playing live as much as we started to on No Light, Only Fire, there were some songs I really liked, but I found I was waiting for my favourite bit – just cut out the fat and write more favourite bits!

This new album seems to also be a big leap forward in maturity with regard to the songwriting.  Is there anything that has changed your approach?

I did a lot more work on my own on ideas and working out how bits link than previously, which I think had something to do with there being more normal-sounding songs. We always end up writing together and jamming stuff, but there’s sometimes when you work like that where you end up just stacking stuff on top of each other because people aren’t quite on the same page, structure wise. I’ve always been a fan of quite simple songwriting, to be honest. A good song is like a Maiden song where it’s verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, solo, quiet verse, chorus, and the chorus is the name of the song four times. If you keep that in the back of your head, it makes you really trim fat everywhere.

How do you write?  Do you come up with demos to give the band?  Do you and Emily write together?

It all comes together when we play together, but as mentioned I did a lot of riffs and working bits out alone this time. But even then, there’s time when you start something and you think it’s great, but you just can’t make it work. Emily and I write together occasionally, but not much. As soon as we try sitting at home with guitars together to write, you start to go off in different directions and it can be a bit counter-productive. Something we do do, though, is once we’ve got a song pretty nailed, we’ll record it on my old four-track tape recorder as a demo, and from that I’ll work on vocals, but I’ll also listen to it obsessively, constantly, looking for stuff to change, take out, little tweaks. We’ve always done that. Our first demo was recorded on that machine, and every album we’d put through there before we went to studio as well. I’ll genuinely spend three months listening to nothing but demos, being really critical. It drives me up the wall, but I can’t help it!

The band is so impressive as a unit.  Do you all ever just jam?  If so, how important is it to you to have a band that does?

Thank you! We jam when we’ve got a few riffs and working out where they could go, but otherwise not really. Dave and I just end up playing a load of Slayer and Death songs, which isn’t very good going if you’re trying to work on something! We do actually have a little jam room, though. Emily and I have a shed building at the bottom of the garden where we go to write quietly all together, just with practice amps and padded drums. That’s quite good actually, because you’re able to get the <<idea>> of the song across to one another quietly, without being sent mad by volume.

One thing that seems to stand out about your band is tone.  Please elaborate on your quest for tone (guitar tone, overall).

I will be completely honest with you and say that I have absolutely no knowledgeable method or thinking when it comes to tone! Loud and heavy is basically what I’m after, haha. I’ve had the same Laney Tony Iommi head for 10 years now, and that was purely because I needed a new amp pretty sharpish and it happened to be cheap on eBay! My thinking was, “Well, it’s Iommi, innit?” I have a Laney Klipp as well, but it’s like having a Ming vase – delicate and breaks easily. Again, I got that because when I was 14 it was on sale in the local guitar shop for under 100 quid – that’s the bit that appealed, rather than <<what>> it was, I didn’t find that out til later!

But yeah, I use a fuzz pedal called a Muffroom Cloud (now called a Fallout Cloud becauise apparently the word Muff is copyrighted on guitar stuff – lolz). A mate in a guitar shop said I should try it out when I was trying a guitar or something, and I ended up buying the pedal instead. That’s about it, really. There’s a sweet spot between being really bottom heavy and having a good amount of heavy metal crunch – bit like Matt Pike when he’s doing High On Fire, I suppose. But, really, I just turn everything up til I like the sound of it.

How important is tone to you?

As long as I feel comfortable playing, then I’m happy about tone. I know some people are like mad monks searching for an ancient Biblical artifact and they’re constantly buying and selling kit online and switching up their pedal board, but I tend to be someone who settles into something, and then stays with it for 10 years. Maybe because I’ve got such a basic, black and white thing I’m looking for, that’s something to do with it.

Would you consider tone as important to Death or Black Metal as it is to Doom?

I think in any guitar music tone is important. But the question is: does it sound <right>? I think that ‘90s Entombed HM-2 type sound is killer, but I don’t think I’d much want that for me. Or if you listen to someone like Trey Azagthoth from Morbid Angel, killer tone, totally defines Mornid Angel’s sound, but we’d sound terrible if I copied that. People do talk a lot more about tone with doom, though. I guess it’s because it comes from Sabbath and Hendrix and people like that in its rootsy form, and it’s quite a natural, warm sound, so that obviously leads into investigating old amps and pedals and guitars from the ‘70s and stuff.

Yours is a sound that is distinctly Doom but devoid of trends.  How much do you credit that to your British heritage?

I think there is quite a British edge to us – I think when I think of what I want to do, the core influences have a very British feel and image. Bands like Sabbath, Cathedral, Solstice, Witchfinder General, all that stuff’s got a real old English feel. Electric Wizard are from Dorset, and when I found that out as a kid, I got it instantly – it’s not that far from us, and there’s a lot of countryside there, and there’s a feeling of… something in the air. I remember as a kid as well, feeling quite fascinated by Paradise Lost and My Dying Bride, because they were from Yorkshire where my grandparents were from, so I really knew what a rainy October journey across the moors felt like, haha! But even where we live, there’s a lot of old churches, iron gates, thatched houses, all that kind of stuff, and I think that’s mentally where I go when I’m writing lyrics or we’re thinking of visuals. Doom is all around us!

What do you see as being the difference between British and American Doom?

Well with Vitus and The Obsessed, there was more of an American, slightly bluesy sound to it, I think. It’s indefinable – British doom just has the ghost of Black Sabbath. I can’t really explain what that means, but if you know, you’ll know. I also think there’s a bit more of a folk fingerprint on the British stuff. Maybe that’s just me drawing lines in my head, but I hear things in, say, Cathedral, that an American band just couldn’t have because they haven’t had the same thing. They’re not from Coventry!

The guitar sound is so thick and organic, to what extent do you multi-track?

Just twice – one lead when we all play together, then a second rhythm track. Then solos over the top. I remember when we first recorded, I was expecting to be like Noel Gallagher, doing fifty-odd tracks per song, but Chris Fielding the producer just went, ‘Nah, you don’t need that’. If it’s recorded nicely, and mixed well, it’s all good.

You use a lot of Wah and are able to get some amazing tones from it.  What Wah do you use?  Is there a certain feature that helps you dial in those demonic, blood-curdling sounds?

Crybaby Wah, which I’ve had since I was about 12, so 22 years! I’ve always been a big fan of wah, all I wanted to do as a kid was play Voodoo Chile. Wah’s just rad, it’s so much fun to make noise like that! I went to see Metallica a while back, and Kirk Hammett had them all over the stage – I think I counted 16! So yeah, I just use the Crybaby pedal, and have it at the end of the circuit, rather than at the start. I’ve tried it like that but it just doesn’t work – you need it at the end to get that really sharp, squealy noise. I had one of those Boss pedal cases, but the wah space in that was at the front, so every gig I had to take it out, which sort of defeated the purpose!

At what point did you realize you wanted to dedicate your life to music?  How much of a role did Black Sabbath play in that decision?

Before this band I’d been in loads of bands that had never done anything, and we weren’t really trying to. But I really wanted to start a doom band and take it seriously, and before I knew it it was all Emily and I were thinking about. Our lives now are scheduled round the band – we haven’t been on a normal holiday for years. If we ever go away, we’ll get to about 6pm and be like, ‘What do you do at night while you’re away, if not go and play a show?’ So yeah, it’s just the more we’ve done, the more we’ve wanted to do, and we’re very lucky we get to be quite selfish about it and do it as much as we can. As for Sabbath – I’m a complete devotee, but I think that would be the same if I did music myself or not. They’re in my bones now.

How do you approach your solos?  Are they thought out or more of something that just comes into being from jamming?

When we’re rehearsing a song, I’ll just do some improvised nonsense over the top, and then when we record the demo I’ll play til I find something that sticks – once it’s down on tape the shape tends to stay the same. I have no musical training in that respect, I don’t know about harmonies or anything like that, just a few basic scales and what I like, that’s kind of it, haha!

Do the live shows play a factor in the actual writing process?  For example, do you write songs with the intention of featuring them in the set?

Definitely. Playing live is the best bit of being in a band, so you’re always thinking about that. And there’s sometimes when you’re playing and you’ll think, ‘I wish we had a song where I could do more of this thing.’

At the end of "Like Sisyphus" is a part that sounds a bit like Black Metal.  Was this intentional?

The blast beat! Yeah man, that came from me. That song actually was pretty jammed. I had that riff at the start, and we came up with a doom bit, but we got a bit stuck on ‘what now?’ I got home from practice and immediately had the idea and texted Dave what he had to do. At first I wanted him to do it in some stupid rhythm that’s apparently impossible to blast to, and when we were with Chris in the studio he was getting <<really>> pissed off with me about it, haha. But then we changed it to that 4/4 beat, and it suddenly clicked and we got it in, like, two takes, and the only reason we did a second was because the first one was literally the first time we’d played it like that.

What would your ideal tour package be comprised of?

Electric Wizard, Vitus, us. Or Iron Maiden and us. I wouldn’t mind that. We did a festival with Maiden once, so we can say we’ve played with them and not be liars.

Any plans of touring the U.S.?

I would love to but it’s mad expensive and timing is quite hard to figure out. We’ve idly looked at it a couple of times, but without solid offers it’s kind of a non-starter, really. I’d love to, though, do Psycho Las Vegas or Maryland Death Fest or something.

So far, what has been your favorite release this year?

There’s been a lot of killer stuff this year – Church, Conjurer, Svalbard, Carpenter Brut, YOB, Primordial, Witchskull, Iron Void, Turnstile, Sleep, Ghost… All killer!

What would you name as your musical guilty pleasures?

I never feel guilty, but my least cool thing is that I like musicals. If I’m in the car and Elaine Page comes on Radio 2, that’s me done for the next two hours. Emily hates them, but I’ve always been into musicals. Also Dave will say I should feel ashamed about how much I like Bryan Adams. Again, not a bit of it – he’s a fucking genius. Reckless is genuinely one of my favourite records ever. Fight me!


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Edited 10 December 2022

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