Greetings Pat and welcome back to Voices From The Darkside… Man, our first interview already dates back to our print issue number 2 (which was released exactly 30 years ago) and next year it’s gonna be the 40th anniversary of HELLWITCH, so how does all that feel for you? Did you expect to be around with the band for so long when you originally started it? Is there anything special planned for 2024, to celebrate 40 years of HELLWITCH?
“Greetings Frank! It’s great to be part of VOICES FROM THE DARKSIDE once again! A true honor! 40 years does seem like quite a long time. Especially when I watch our videos from ’86! WOW! Ancient School! Yes, things have changed completely. Not all for the better, that’s for sure! I feel pretty misaligned with current Metal trends. I don’t hear too much going on that pleases me. I did not expect to be living HELLWITCH in 2023! When I was 20 (in ’84) I did not think I would be capable of playing so fast at 60! Obviously, I was a confused 20 year old, haha! We have some MEGA plans for our 40th anniversary! We want to do an extensive US tour and hopefully more shows abroad. I know we would do well in Europe as that’s all I’ve ever heard since 1984! We’re ready for it!”
In December of this year HELLWITCH will finally play its very first show ever in Germany at the “Never Surrender Fest Vol. III” in Berlin. Do you have any expectations regarding that show? Any other gigs in Germany or Europe planned as well around that time?
“I expect that I will meet many old penpals and see some real German craziness at the show! We are working on doing more shows around that time, but nothing is confirmed yet. We are looking for Euro booking support still! Feel free to get in touch with us!”
What I really appreciate about HELLWITCH is the fact that you musically never compromised in any way to reach a bigger audience. HELLWITCH still sounds like HELLWITCH today, even after so many years, so I suppose you still enjoy the stuff you do in the same way as in the beginning, don’t you?
“Thank you for the kind words, Frank. You are wise! I never focused on success. Our “Omnipotent Convocation” album was the closest we came. Most of those songs were written as a band effort with some thought of making them a bit more of a straight forward. Not too experimental. We were pleased, but it did not have the deathly HELLWITCH flavor that “Annihilational Intercention” has. I think it’s clear I still love doing it! I’m still excited to sit home and compose or go to practice and work on songs! I want people to know there are still some fresh ideas in the Metal scene!”
Unlike many other bands, which often try to bury their musical past, you don’t seem to have any problems with your early material at all. I mean, ‘Nosferatu’ was the very first song you ever released back in 1984, and you have re-recorded it several times already over the years and still play it live. Same goes for ‘Torture Chamber’, which already dates back to 1986, but it was just re-recorded for your new album. What is the reason to re-record classic songs, how do die hard fans react on the new versions in general and is there any old HELLWITCH material, which you personally don’t like anymore at all?
“I think some of the old songs are classics. According to online numbers ‘Nosferatu’ is our most popular song! It has a timeless quality, I think. And it’s brutal! I was never satisfied with having a song I really loved end up soley as a demo track. ‘Nosferatu’ was never properly recorded until our debut album. Along those lines, the same thing applies to ‘Torture Chamber’. It was always meant to sound like it does on the new album, but budgetary constraints and technological limitations never allowed it until now! Also, the song ‘Hellwitch’ (written in ’85!) is a timeless epic! I brought it back from a rough, one-man, home demo recording. So far the die hards like ‘Torture Chamber’ and some think ‘Hellwitch’ is the best song on the new album! On the flipside, there are a couple clunkers from the old days. ‘Satan’s Wrath’ haaa! I don’t like to think about that one. ‘Fate At Pain’s End’ is okay, but not something worth reviving.”
You often get labeled as a Death Metal band, but I personally would say that you’re a lot more rooted in aggressive Thrash, since you don’t do any death grunts… And your choice of cover songs from bands like EXODUS (‘A Lesson In Violence’, ‘Piranha’), SODOM (‘Blasphemer’), SLAYER (‘Black Magic’), METALLICA (‘Fight Fire With Fire’), CELTIC FROST (‘Visual Aggression’) or SACRIFICE (‘Necronomicon’) seem to confirm that to me… The only relation to Death Metal that I see is your love for the band DEATH, of which you played and / or recorded ‘Archangel’ and ‘Infernal Death’ already, so are there any Death Metal bands out there at all that influenced you in your songwriting?
“Wellllll… I think there might be a grunt or two… or three sprinkled in the songs! I know there’s a couple in ‘Anthropophagi’ and maybe in ‘At Rest’. But, it’s not something I do regularly. I try to keep all elements of HELLWITCH interesting. You mention some old covers there from our earliest days, haha! The only one from the list we have done for the last 30+ years is ‘Infernal Death’. I think some Death Metal feel has seeped into our music. I definitely love a lot of Death Metal! DEMILICH is my favorite band! Early MORBID ANGEL is always in my listening rotation! I also really like the first two SUFFOCATION recordings (EP and LP), the first two IMMOLATION and DEICIDE albums and demos. Also, I worship the original POSSESSED recordings! Even a bit of DERANGED, SINISTER and CARNAL FORGE from time to time! And, of course, all MANTAS recordings and DEATH demos / first two LPs.”
A lot of bands already had to compromise a little bit when they grew older, because their vocalists aren’t able to pull off the high screams anymore in the same way as in their early days. When I listen to your newest album “Annihilational Intercention” it seems to me that you don’t have any problems like that or did you also have to change something here and there, like tuning down a bit more or something?
“Oh fuck no! I never change anything about how I play / scream, haha! I keep it brutal like it’s 1990 forever! No changes in tuning, nothing. If anything, I try to do more than I did in 1990! I think vocally, at least, I’ve succeeded! As you mentioned on “Annihilational Intercention” there are no “problems” and I have expanded my vocal insanity to its highest level yet! And the guitar playing might be beyond any previous recordings we’ve done.”
For a non native english speaker a lot of the titles that you choose for your songs or releases are mostly pretty tough stuff: ‘Transgressive Sentience’, ‘Mordirivial Disemanation’, ‘Pyrophoric Seizure’, ‘Viral Exogence’, ‘Syzygial Miscreancy’, ‘Anthropophagi’, ‘Mythologicalies (Enlightened Paganus)’, ‘Omnipotent Convocation’, ‘Annihilational Intercention’, ‘Solipsistic Immortality’, ‘Delegated Disruption’, ‘Megalopalypytic Confine’, ‘Sorcerous Imminence’, ‘Epochal Cessation’… It almost became another HELLWITCH trademark and definitely nothing that you can easily scream along to, like ‘Hell Awaits’, ‘Bonded By Blood’ or ‘Flag Of Hate’ for example… Is it just because I’m a stupid old German guy or is it also more difficult for you as a vocalist to spit out the more complicated words? Why don’t you go for easier titles?
“Thank you for noticing, Frank, haha! You must not be a “stupid old German guy” because you spelled everything correctly! Bravo! A+ in the HELLWITCH spelling bee! I won’t mention names, but there are a few reviews of the new album online with song titles mispelled and even the album title mispelled! Arrrgggghhhh! Yes, it is difficult for me to quickly pronounce many of the words in my lyrics. In the studio for the new album, I sometimes had to sit and repeat certain lines 10-20 times before I did a take. And before we did our US tour in June ’23, I had to really sit home and play / sing the new songs many times to get everything perfect! Well, in fact, I think my vocal / lyrical style is a trademark of the HELLWITCH sound! This all stems from around ’86 when I really took notice that most bands had quite simple lyrics. I thought, “How can writers be sooo limited and basic in their concepts and lyrics?” I aimed to change that! I committed myself to writing lyrics and covering topics as no other band had before. Granted, some concepts I’ve come up with are not totally in uncharted territory, but I try to choose some aspect of the concept that is unique. Don’t get me wrong, as a fan, I love many simple lyrics. But HELLWITCH is an original entity that requires unique lyrics / titles to compliment the off the wall musical ideas.”
HELLWITCH was on hold from 1998 to 2004… what have you done in that period of time? Did you play any music on your own or as a guest in other bands or projects?
“I got into collecting movies and filmed more shows than ever (to add to my 12,000+ title concert video collection!). I did not record or get involved with any other projects. I didn’t touch the guitar for months at a time! Sad days!”
Even though the band has been around for so long already, “Annihilational Intercention” is only your third full length so far. What is the reason for that? I mean you seem to write and record a lot of stuff, considering what is already out there on demos and EPs, so why does it always take this long until a new HELLWITCH album sees the light of day?
“Soooo many reasons. A big part was fear of more rip off record labels! Remember, we were ripped off big time by Wild Rags (Ricardo Campos) for the first album. Then Michael “POS” Piesch ripped us off in ’92 with his shitty label Lethal Records. Then, Joe “Witch” left in ’93 (the band’s longtime drummer – Frank)! After that we did the ’94 demo with a temporary drummer but no “solid” drummer could be found for the next four years, so we split in ’98! The six year break-up stopped everything for us. But within two years of reforming we had almost the entire “Omnipotent Convocation” album written. But then “Omnipotent Convocation” was a bit of a struggle to record. Joe “Witch” was not committed at that point and it really delayed us in moving forward. We worked on some new songs here and there after that, but it was not easy. And then Displeased Records (Ron Veltkamp, another piece of shit!) ripped us off! When Brutal Brian joined in 2015, the band took off again! We recorded the “At Rest” 7″ right away. We actually wrote several new songs within a couple of years. We were contracted / set to record “Annihilational Intercention” in 2019, but I had a health scare with my throat and then Covid! These factors halted everything! Finally, we were able to fire things back up in 2021 and record in ’22.”
Talking about the HELLWITCH releases… I saw on your website that you still sell a lot of them, even some of the old demos, so is there still demand for them?
“Absolutely, we sold lots of the ’86, ’87 and ’94 demo cassettes on our tour last month and I will have boxes of them to sell at the Destroying Texas Festival on July 29-30! It seems like retro items like vinyl and cassettes are definitely appealing to Metal fans in 2023! We’re quite happy that Listenable has released “Annihilational Intercention” on three colors of vinyl as well as full color cassette and O card CD!”
For fans who just care for the songs and not necessarily the original format that they got released on, there used to be another great opportunity to get most of your releases pretty quickly on just two CDs: the Displeased Records re-release of “Syzygial Miscreancy” from 2009 and the compilation “Final Approach”, which came out on Progressive Arts Music in 2003. Both of them feature most of your demos and EPs and compliment each other perfectly. I’m not sure about the “Final Approach” compilation, but the Displeased Records release is unfortunately pretty hard to find again already, so wouldn’t it be a good idea to make all those demos and EPs available again, maybe even as a double CD set?
“What you suggest could be a good idea, but we have recently re-released “Omnipotent Convocation” through Vic Records and there are now three versions of “Syzygial Miscreancy” available on different labels (one version also has “Terraasymmetry” as a bonus)! Also, “Syzygial Miscreancy” will be reissued on limited vinyl in early ’24! Finally, all the old demos are available at www.hellwitch.com on cassette or CD-R. Yes, both “Final Approach” and the very Displeased CD pressings are long out of print as is our live CD, “A Night At The 5th”.”
By the way: why did the Vic Records version of “Syzygial Miscreancy” come up with a live show as bonus tracks instead of the demos? The Displeased Records version was out of print already anyway, so in my opionion that would have been a better idea…
“Frank, your knowledge of all things HELLWITCH is very impressive! I like these questions! 666!!! So, after the Displeased CDs had sold out, F.O.A.D. Records (Italy) put out the same recording that Displeased released, but on vinyl. I did not want to do a third version of the same thing all within a couple of years so I thought if another “Syzygial Miscreancy” CD was going to be released, it should have something new that no one had heard before! The Vic Records version actually has two live soundboard recordings as a bonus! But, maybe your idea is better? Maybe that will come soon too!”
“Syzygial Miscreancy” featured a short HELLWITCH comic and from what I’ve read you even did a full HELLWITCH comic book later on. Could you tell us a bit more about that?
“Tommy, the bassist on “Syzygial Miscreancy” was a cartoonist. Somehow the idea came up in 1990 that he could chronicle our live / rehearsal / tour “adventures” in a HELLWITCH cartoon! We three thought it was a great idea! He did a short draft that appears in the album and afterward he expanded it into a 28 page comic book. It is really funny even if you don’t know much about the band! It’s got some classic underground Metal humor for sure! The full length HELLWITCH comic book is still available at www.hellwitch.com!”
Back in the good old snail mail / tapetrading days I always found flyers from you in a lot of letters that I received from all over the world… you were a big video trader back then, so would you mind telling us a bit about your collection? How many videos did you approximately have and does the collection still exist? Is it all still on VHS tapes?
“Yes, I’ve been trading and selling Metal / Black Metal / Thrash / Punk / Hardcore / Rock, etc. videos since 1984! Once I got the VENOM “promo” video for ‘Witching Hour’ and some MOTÖRHEAD promo videos, I was hooked! Up to that point I was a rabid cassette tape trader (’81-’84)! Videos begged the question: “Why should I just listen to the music I worship when I could see and hear it!?” I only traded / purchased videos from ’84-’97. In ’97 I got my first Sony 8mm video camera and began filming almost every show that came to the South Florida area where I live! I now have a digital video camera that I film shows with. I would say I have the biggest collection in the US, if not the world! The collection is still growing and is over 12,000 titles now! I still spread ads for the list website (Darkest Soul Promotions) via snail mail, haha! Sadly, I discontinued the physical, paper list I used to offer. That was around 2008 when postage got a bit insane and it cost $3 to mail a list! I have to say, YouTube almost killed the music video collecting scene that once existed! But, I might also add, I have thousands of rare videos that are not on YouTube! I currently have 2100 VHS tapes, 1900 DVD discs and around 400 8mm master video camera tapes (shows I personally filmed)! All my videos can be ordered on VHS tapes or DVD discs! I don’t do downloads or file transfers of any kind. I don’t trade as much as in the ’90s / early ’00s but I do an annual update to the website! You can view the list at DARKEST SOUL PROMOTIONS (www.bit.ly/darkestsoulpromotions).”
In 2017 Iron Bonehead released the very impressive HELLWITCH boxset “Compilation Of Death Series – First Possession: Hellwitch”, which featured 10 vinyl LPs. Did Patrick of Iron Bonehead come up with the idea? Is he such a die hard HELLWITCH fan that he didn’t care about the financial risk, which is always connected to such an expensive release?
“It was actually a joint effort between Gabriel Gattaca Kremscher (Compilation Of Death, Chile) and Patrick (Iron Bonehead, Germany). Gabriel was actually the one I interacted with during the entire construction of the box set. These true supporters of the underground were very enthusiastic about putting out a 30th Anniversary box set of HELLWITCH material (Yes, like everything else, its release was delayed a bit!). I think they had a lot of faith that such a project would be successful. I can say I’m almost sold out of the copies I have! And I believe the gold splattered vinyl variation is sold out world wide. I could be wrong. These guys are die hard underground Metal freaks who deserve to be recognized as legends in supporting underground music!”
Tell us a little bit more about that boxset, like how much you personally were involved in it, who chose the material that got used for it and especially the stuff that ended up on the “Unreleased 1985” and “Unreleased 1986-1987” records… Is that rehearsal or live recordings?
“I was totally personally involved!!! I spent 50-100 hours on compiling the recordings / images / liner notes, etc.! I chose all the material and images that are in the set. The unreleased recordings from ’85-’87, from what I recall, are a mixture of rehearsals and live stuff from those years. By the way, while compiling those recordings, I re-visited the one-man, rough demo I made of the song ‘Hellwitch’ in 1985. This re-visit is actually what inspired me to bring this song back to life and rework into what you now hear on the “Annihilational Intercention” album!”
Would you agree that some of the early labels that you worked with, like Wild Rags or Lethal Records, did more damage to your career than they actually helped you to reach the next level?
“Yes. It’s a bit(!) frustrating and discouraging when all your hard work is stolen from you by scumbags like Wild Rags (Ricardo Campos), Lethal Records (Michael Piesch) and Displeased Records (Ron Veltkamp)! Releases that could have pushed us further ahead were minimally pressed for some quick profit and then abandoned.”
Apart from those that I just mentioned, you’ve already worked with a bunch of other labels over the years, so did they all fulfill the expections that you had in them?
“Some did, some didn’t. Some implied better promotion and distribution than they actually provided. Others did exactly what was agreed upon. I can say Listenable has been the most generous and supportive label ever for HELLWITCH! They’ve gone above and beyond what they agreed to do! Laurent is a great guy who truly understands HELLWITCH. Roel from Vic is also a very supportive, die hard Metal maniac!”
The new album “Annihilational Intercention” was now released via Listenable Records, which is probably the biggest company HELLWITCH ever worked with, isn’t it? Is it a contract for this album only or did you sign on longer terms?
“Yes, this is the biggest label we have been on thus far. We are contracted to do two or more full length albums for Listenable.”
Two of the songs on the new album were previously already released on the limited “At Rest” vinyl 7″ EP via Pulverised Records, one of them (‘Anthropophagi’) additionally also used to be the titletrack of your 1994 demo and ‘Torture Chamber’ is an old HELLWITCH classic, which dates way back to 1986, so only six of the songs are brandnew. Were you lacking in time to write more new songs or did you just want to see all of those on an album as well after all?
“We had parts for another new song, but I really wasn’t happy with where it was going. It needed work. I decided to give it a rest and just record what we had rather than rushing and recording something substandard.”
With ‘Hellwitch’ you also have a self-titled song… Does it lyrically also deal with the band or is it just the name that’s similar?
“It’s about the mythical(?) character that I created in 1985 when first composing the song. We’re also making a promo video for that song!”
You did a promo video for ‘Delegated Disruption’ in support of the new album… Tell us a bit more about the making of it. Was that the first professional HELLWITCH video or did you already record any other promo videos before that?
“We actually did a semi-professional video for ‘Days Of Nemesis’ in 1995. But ‘Delegated Disruption’ was the first truly pro video we’ve done for a song. We were very fortunate in that the studio we recorded “Annihilational Intercention” in is right next door to the video studio where we recorded ‘Delegated Disruption’! Our album producer, Jeremy Staska is best friends with Julian Prieto (Filmaster Prod.) so we naturally went to Julian to help us with videos. We did principle photography when JP was down here (he lives near Atlanta) to play a show we had in Miami with MORTICIAN in January ’23. A few weeks later I returned to do some insert shots and work on special FX. The process was actually a lot easier than I thought it would be. We did 3-4 takes of the entire song and spliced those together into the final video. Jeremy then did some color “grading” to give it a dark, bleak look.”
In that video your second guitar player John wears a Dahmer t-shirt and there’s also a HELLWITCH promo pic which shows you wearing one as well… So, I was wondering if you ever watched the Netflix series “Dahmer – Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story” and what you think about it?
“That’s actually the same shirt in both the video and photo, haha! I lent it to JP to wear in the video since he didn’t bring many clothes with him for that trip here. I have indeed watched the Netflix series! I think it’s great! I’ve been a follower of Jeff The Chef since ’94. I’ve seen some other movies about him that were all terribly written. The Netflix series is the only one that does his story justice, I think.”
Throughout the band’s history you went through quite a lot of line-up changes already… Was it mainly due to musical differences or also personal stuff that lead to it? Which past members were the most fun to work with and why?
“Both. I’ve had to deal with members wanting to join a Rap band, demanding a drum solo when we played live, stealing my equipment to buy drugs and 100 more crazy issues. Our ex-bassist Craig Shattuck was the most fun to work with. Very smart, cool, supportive guy! He wrote some of the best riffs on the “Omnipotent Convocation” album including the openings of ‘Opiatic Luminance’ and ‘Mysteria’! Also, Dave and Andy from the ’85-’87 line-up are very cool and were a pleasure to work with. They were intelligent, committed and positive.”
Ok Pat, I guess I stole enough of your time already, so we better come to an end for now. All the best to you and HELLWITCH and thanks a lot for the interview. If you would like to add something else, you’re welcome to do so now.
“Yes Frank, you put me through the ringer on this one, hahahaha! I love it! Thank you for the well wish and being a steadfast ally in the fight for HELLWITCH supremacy for 30+ years now! We are extremely grateful! Watch for us in 2024 as we extol 40 years of ripping faces off! More shows, more releases and more annihilational brutality are in store! Thanks to your readers and our supporters in Europe! We are coming soon to KILLKILLKILL! Contact us!”