Formed in Nottinghamshire, England, Witchfynde were just one of many early-'80s groups to be conveniently lumped into the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, but they were nowhere near as sonically extreme as their exaggeratedly satanic image and references would suggest. In fact, despite displaying a wealth of heavy metal influences, their music was characterized by a strange duality, as prone to embracing downright dumb pub rock workouts as it was to indulging in high-concept songwriting reminiscent of '70s progressive rock.
Witchfynde's roots can be traced back as far as 1975, but it wasn't until late 1979 that vocalist Steve Bridges, guitarist Montalo, bassist Andro Coulton, and drummer Gra Scoresby achieved any manner of recognition with the release of their first single, "Give ‘Em Hell." Signing with Rondolet Records in early 1980, they quickly followed this with a proper album bearing the same name and none-too-subtle cover artwork (boasting a goat-headed devil-monster-thing), which no doubt gave future black metal pioneers Venom an idea or two. But the album's contents could hardly be called extreme, only bordering on heavy metal most of the time as the group flirted with prog rock excess and punk rock simplicity in equal measure. It did, however, land them a coveted support slot on a tour across the U.K. that summer with fast-rising NWOBHM stars Def Leppard, after which Witchfynde quickly set about recording their second album of 1980 with new bassist Pete Surgey. Released just before the new year, the notably mainstream Stagefright toned down both the occult imagery and the more aggressive elements of the band's sound, confirming to most observers that Witchfynde's affiliation with heavy metal was tenuous at best. Indeed, hard-edged material was now clearly the exception to the rule, as the band delved liberally into very accessible radio rock and even (terribly ill-fated) attempts at the odd ballad or two. Needless to say, original fans were not impressed and stayed away in droves, prompting the bandmembers to once again turn up their faux-satanic showboating, even as their musical direction remained questionable and confusing.
New vocalist Luther Beltz (initially choosing the ill-advised nom de guerre Chalky White) joined their ranks in early 1981, just in time to perform on the BBC's Friday Rock Show and watch the band's record company, Rondolet, go bankrupt. Various silly excuses were conjured up to explain Witchfynde's long absence in the next few years before they finally re-emerged in 1983, signed to new label Expulsion, and released their third album, Cloak and Dagger. Vocalist Beltz distinguished himself with his often grating King Diamond-esque falsetto, and the band certainly sounded tighter and more confident than ever -- but everything else about their music and cabalistic image felt hopelessly dated by now. The album went nowhere and the musicians soon found themselves at yet another label (Mausoleum) with yet another new bassist (one Edd Wolfe) and yet another unsuccessful record, 1984's Lords of Sin. Once again, Witchfynde vanished from sight (thankfully, with no cockamamie excuses this time), but their inclusion in 1990's excellent N.W.O.B.H.M. ‘79 Revisited collection and a decent enough greatest-hits set in 1996's The Best of Witchfynde ensured that their name was never entirely forgotten.
Still, hardly anyone could have foreseen a reunion until it actually took place in 2001, leading to a slew of concert dates (including their first North American jaunt) and a new album called The Witching Hour featuring Montalo, Surgey, and Scoresby alongside new vocalist Harry Harrison. Confusingly, former singer Luther Beltz, who had originally been involved with these re-formation plans only to bow out at the last second, decided to put together his own competing version of Witchfynde, and also threatened to tour and record -- strange but true. Meanwhile, the quartet of Montalo, Surgey, Scoresby, and Harrison persevered, releasing the Play It to Death full-length (including covers of the Rolling Stones’ “Paint It Black” and Robin Trower’s “Shame the Devil” along with eight originals) in 2008. That same year, however, Beltz returned to the Witchfynde fold and Harrison was shown the door -- and as of January 2010 the band proclaimed that that Beltz was back “for good.” ~ Eduardo Rivadavia, Rovi
Dec 02 FridaySheffield, UK O2 Academy Sheffield