“Satan rules!” states the bio of French Doom/Stoner trio Witchfinder. Dear, oh dear…more expected is the apparent devotion to hedonism and, on the band’s second album Hazy Rites (Black Bow Records), both are seemingly hallowed in equal measure.
More roundly acceptable is the band’s penchant for slow, rhythm-heavy Stoner, given added emphasis by an expansive production. Opener ‘Ouija’, despite being steeped in the Occult, carries Conan’s weight and resonance: vocalist Clément a slightly more tuneful ringer for Jon Davis. The hum of the riff is accompanied by a fearsome fuzz as the deafening rhythm section kicks in, and this is the template for the album as a whole: the low moan of the leadwork in ‘Satan’s Haze’ given an obliterating power by Tom’s monstrous stickwork and Stan’s bass, cranked up to twenty. Spacey, Psych-flavoured harmonies add a dreamy element here, an Electric Wizard-tinged fever generating a weed fog and adding warmth to this crawling, sinister track.
It’s an album full of sprawling expanses, the seven tracks covering a full hour. ‘Covendoom’, the second of three ten-minute-plus balls of pulsating mass, lumbers down a similar if more pensive path to its predecessor. Hypnotic and more repetitive, it retains an ominous air and explodes into a Blackened three-quarter before slithering back into its viscous morass. ‘Sexual Intercourse’ has, as one might expect, a jauntier air exemplified by a skipping rhythm, but again a crushing bedrock slams the anchors on this Uncle Acid-esque romp which again fires into an obsidian coda.
‘Wild Trippin’ begins in mellow fashion before that lead guitar crackles and shoots some life into a track which otherwise impersonates a leaden, often dulled version of The Stone Roses. This, sadly, is the huge negative coursing through the album: as so often repeated, weight isn’t everything, and if that’s largely all you’ve got even Doom can be dull. The harsh passages of the penultimate ‘Sorry’ show a real angst and passion but are overshadowed by a droning echo which cheapens the effect. This kind of unflinching base is sometimes saved by shorter track lengths: however, by the final ten minutes that is closer ‘Dans l’Instant’, again rescued from utter mediocrity by brief flashes of organ and lead, the more epicurean low-end fan will feel as if this has lasted a week. Hazy Rites isn’t bad: it’s just half-asleep.
5 / 10