Interview with guitarist and vocalist Patrick Ranieri
Interview conducted by Luxi Lahtinen
Date online: April 16, 2023
Floridian underground death/thrash metal veterans Hellwitch should ring a bell to many who experienced the tape-trading scene back in the eighties. The band's first two demos, Transgressive Sentience (1986) and Mordirivial Dissemination (1987), took the world by storm, cementing the band's name in the minds of many true underground metal maniacs, yours truly included.
The band soon signed to the notorious American label Wild Rags Records and went to the legendary Morrisound Studios in March 1990 to record their debut album, Syzygial Miscreancy, which came out in December that same year, gaining high praise all around the world.
In 1991, they went on to record a 3-track EP titled Terraasymmetry, again using the services of Morrisound Studios in Tampa, Florida. This time they signed a deal with Austria's Lethal Records, which put the release out in November 1993 and apparently left the band without their own copies of the EP or royalties (no surprise the band's cooperation with the label didn't continue).
In 1994, the guys released a 5-track demo on their own, titled Anthropophagi, showing that blood was still running wild and hot in the veins of these Floridian underground legends. There were no obvious signs of slowing down but then the band went on hiatus for about six years. It was a different world where grunge was the thing for many labels, which killed off many metal bands. In 2003, there appeared a compilation CD titled Final Approach that basically contained everything the band had released through 1994, including a rehearsal tape from 1998 that presented a couple of new songs.
The wait was over in 2005 when Hellwitch returned to the recording spotlight by releasing a very limited 4-track EP titled The Epitome of Disgrace, again independently. That EP breathed new fire into the band, and it took four more years to get the band's second album, Omnipotent Convocation, released by Spain's Xtreem Music.
A lot of hungry alligators have been feasting in the murky Florida swamps since the band's second album was released but believe it or not, Hellwitch are preparing their third full-length album to be released by France's Listenable Records in May 2023. The album is called... nah, you can find out yourself by reading the following interview with the "Witchmaster" himself, Mr. Patrick Ranieri...
Hey there, Pat! How's life in sunny Florida?
Patrick: Hey hey Lord Luxifer! Life is HOT! Like HELL HOT! Ninety degrees a couple of days ago, in the midst of winter! BUT I'm not complaining as a friend in Detroit lost power for four days last week due to an ice storm! Wow! I'll take heat over excessive ice storm frigidity! Hail SATAN!
HELLWITCH ALBUM NO. 3. - ANNIHILATIONAL INTERCENTION
You have been working hard on the band's third full-length studio album. Would you give us an update on where you are with it at the moment? How much have you done and how much is there still to be done?
Patrick: It's done. It comes out in April/May '23 on Listenable Records. The album will contain nine songs and the vinyl version will contain an exclusive bonus track.
Would you say the new songs represent the distinctive and familiar Hellwitch sound that fans of the band have gotten used to hearing on your previous releases over the years, but perhaps with a twist of something new?
Patrick: I think the most distinctive elements that carry over from previous releases are speed, technicality and originality. These songs are VERY different than the last album as Omnipotent Convocation was written mostly as a band effort. The new album, Annihilational Intercention (you know I love those two-word titles! ha!), was mainly written by me. Also, the new album has the broadest time frame of compositions of anything we've ever done! Songs range from 1985 to present! I'm especially proud and excited to finally have the song "Hellwitch" released as it was meant to be. It's old with a "twist of something new." Parts of it were written in 1985 and some were written in 2021! I think they fit together seamlessly. I really got into the time machine and visited my musical feelings from back then to create new ideas. In a way it reminds me of the song "Mordirivial Dissemination" in that it's an epic musical beast. Many ideas that are always moving forward in an unusual progression. The intro to "Hellwitch" is the orchestral piece, "Sorcerous Imminence." This marks the first orchestral piece ever featured on a Hellwitch recording. Aside from "Hellwitch," some of the new songs like "Solipsistic Immortality" and "Delegated Disruption" are more intense than anything before. Really bombastic riffing and some of the most extreme drum work we've ever had! As the bassist of Pavor said in their bio decades ago, "If you don't like this, there's something wrong with you!" [*LOL*]
How much have other current Hellwitch members been involved with the songwriting process for this upcoming release, or are you behind it all?
Patrick: As I mentioned, I've written probably 80-90% of all the music on A.I. But, of course, "Brutal" Brian has given the songs a distinct identity with his drumming and J.P. has helped with some writing as well as bass lines and rhythm guitar harmony ideas. J.P. even does a guitar solo in "At Rest"! Wow... fuckin' BOOSTED!!!
WELCOME TO THE POST-APOCALYPTIC WORLD
Have you chosen the album cover art and, if so, who is doing it and what will it look like?
Patrick: The cover art is being created by none other than Khaos Diktator Design! His portfolio is incredible and we're very happy to be working with him. The cover is a rendering of our post-apocalyptic world filled with grotesque images and symbolic beings that reflect how we've been judged/punished. It shows the intersection of bestial forces seeing to our complete elimination from this planet.
You are still on Listenable Records, right? Does Laurent Merle still have faith in Hellwitch despite all the delays with the writing and recording process of the new opus?
Patrick: Yes, the new album will be released on Listenable. Laurent has told me that the new album has absolutely pulverized him, so I'm flying over with a broom (on a broom?) to sweep up the pieces of him! He said he wants another 20+ songs like the ones on A.I.!
A tough question; will this new album be the swan song for Hellwitch's recording era? I for one, keep my fingers crossed it will not be...
Patrick: Well, Final Approach (2003) was to be the final approach to music for us in 2003! And you see how that turned out... haha!! THANK YOU for the supportive stance! Hopefully, the new album will get some kind of attention and I can say that I'm working on a new song right now! Who knows? We'll see...
THE OLDER YOU GET, THE PICKIER YOU BECOME
As you have become older, have you become a tad pickier regarding the new music that you do for the band, demanding more from yourself, for some reason or the other?
Patrick: Absolutely! I trash much more of what I write now than I ever have before! I'll use maybe one out of five ideas that I come up with. I've also learned that the real test is coming back to an idea days/weeks later and asking if it's still good. Most times I'll say, "Wow, that's pretty boring after all!"... haha!! But a few ideas stick around and make the cut!
Is it hard to stay 100% subjective and sincere towards your own stuff all the time? Does it sometimes feel like a burden for you when (the right) people have praised some of your previous works to the skies that it may seem hard to please them with the new stuff that you have conjured up during your songwriting sessions?
Patrick: Well, I can say that I'm "sincere" when I write! I write what I like. If others like it, that's great, but I'm a fan and I'm good at thinking in fan terms! I usually like the first 1-2 releases from bands (only demos are real!) and then I think they go downhill. The same could apply to Hellwitch. I expect people to like the first album the best. That's the deal. Any subsequent albums will probably sound downhill, according to fan logic. But, as always, I like to listen to our songs. They're never boring for me. That's the most important thing.
It's been 14 years since Hellwitch released the brilliant Omnipotent Convocation album. Are you at all worried that some people may have already forgotten about the band in that time? I mean, 14 years is a pretty huge gap between that album and your upcoming release.
Patrick: No, I think bands like Hellwitch that are pioneers in the UG metal scene are never forgotten. When ANY generation looks into how all this brutal music started, they will inevitably see the name Hellwitch!!! I often think about metal guys in 2223 listening to "retro" bands and saying, "Wow! Fuckin' HELLWITCH from Florida was pretty brutal! Damn!"
NEW BAG OF MORBIDITIES
Could you shed some light on some of the reasons that delayed the recording of this new bag of sonic morbidities?
Patrick: Bag of morbidities? That's good! I like that! LMFAO! Somehow, I'm thinking of food now. hahahaha! Well, right before COVID I had some issues with my health and also the health of my oldest brother. I had a constant pain in my throat/neck area that I was very worried about. I had to go through testing for months. At first, I was told NOT to scream or do vocals! So, that halted plans. Then, I spent months living with/taking care of my oldest brother (he's 80!) Thank Satan we're both fine now. Also, we did not have enough material for the album (+ bonus tracks), so I had to come up with a couple more songs. It was a long battle for sure!
Roughly six years ago, Iron Bonehead Productions from Germany released a massive luxury box set featuring all kinds of Hellwitch releases, from the official albums to rehearsal, live, demo, and unreleased stuff, all on vinyl. Now six years later, would you still say you are as happy and pleased with that package as when it first came out?
Patrick: Yes, I'm still as happy as before. It's an EPIC release! I'm really impressed with how clear the old recordings from '85-'86 came out on vinyl. The vinyl actually sounds a bit better than the original cassettes. Iron Bonehead, Compilation of Death and XvinylX all did a GREAT job!
You guys played a show together with the horror legends Mortician in Miami, on January 29, 2023. How was it?
Patrick: It was the best post-COVID comeback show ever! The venue had the largest turnout in its history!!!! I think there were 600+! And we did something we've NEVER done before. We played Syzygial Miscreancy in order, in its entirety. The crowd went pretty nuts, and it really energized me to have people in their 20s tell me how much they loved it. Plus, I got to hang out with Will for a bit! Will and I have been friends since '87. He used to write to Hellwitch back then and we became pals.
As you guys have known each other for decades, I must ask if you can remember how many times Hellwitch has shared the stage with them over the years? Would you say it's always a bit more special to put on a show with them?
Patrick: This was the FIRST time we ever played with Mortician! It was a very special occasion for us.
What is the spring of 2023 looking like for Hellwitch, live-wise?
Patrick: Sadly, we have no shows planned for spring 2023... BUT! BUT!! BUT!!!!! We are touring the Eastern US in June (7-8 shows). Then we headline the Tampa Death Fest in Oct. We then play the Mass Destruction Fest with Autopsy, Bulldozer, and many more in November. THEN... (drum roll) we play the Never Surrender Festival in Berlin on December 7! And, finally, we play a horror convention/metalfest in Tampa in January of 2024 with my cohort John and Incantation. Still, sadly, no shows in the spring. Dang!
As I recall, Hellwitch has never played outside of America. Would you like to see that happening for the band, like getting a slot to perform at the Keep It True festival in Germany, or Hellfest in France, for example?
Patrick: [*insert Pat's smartass comment here*] Oh my, it appears your memory might need some updating! We've played in Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore and Puerto Rico. Hopefully, we can add some shows around the Never Surrender Fest! If any Euro promoters read this feel free to contact me! We want to play there!!!
Since Hellwitch started back in 1984, a lot of things have happened in metal music. From what I understand, your view on the current metal scene isn't that positive. What's wrong with the metal scene in 2023 Anno Bastardi, from your point of view?
Patrick: Ya know, I think a big part of it is the Internet age. I know this isn't the most profound answer... haha!! Anyone can form a band (and not even play an instrument!) and share it with the world. So, you end up with tons of no-talent projects spewing out all over everyone. Bleeeaarrgghhh!!!!
I still try to find stuff new to listen to, but I'm rarely impressed with what I hear these days.
KEEPING IT REAL, I.E., KEEPING IT BRUTAL
Do you miss the old times, when tapes were sent back and forth and when metalheads around the world contacted each other by writing letters?
Patrick: Yes and no. I like the memories and the level of commitment we had to keep that going. Stuff like driving to the post office daily, putting glue on the stamps to reuse them and telling the person you were writing, "Please return my stamps!" LOL! Dubbing tapes, getting 'zines to find out what new demos/bands were good, going to the record store and buying records, and getting stuff from other countries/cultures (a guy in Australia sent me little packets of "Vegimite." A guy in Russia used to send bottles of vodka in exchange for concert videos from my collection!) All this was badass! But on the flipside, I do like getting to hear a band immediately, writing to someone and getting their reply within a day, and seeing videos on YouTube of a show I WISH I could have seen. I love all that! By the way, I STILL write to a few guys who mainly do snail mail! Arty from Tapes of Hate, Paul from Global Rot/Death by Metal 'zine, and Keith Dempe from Eternal Darkness. We spread each other's ads and keep it brutal.
Is there still something that you'd like to achieve with the band before it's time to call it quits?
Patrick: I'd like us to be on a major label. I'd like us to tour the world. That's about it.
That's all I had in mind for this chat, so thanks a lot for your time, Pat, and may your future path contain many positive and rewarding surprises to come. Any closing comments, curses, witches' incantations, or just whatever...?
Patrick: Thanks for the 'view Luxifer! You are a stalwart in the metal scene and I'm grateful for your cool support! Check out Annihilational Intercention on Listenable coming in May '23. We'll also be releasing three music videos for the new album upon its release! Check 'em out! We still have 30th anniversary 10 LP box sets for sale, as well as live DVDs, CDs, stickers, cassette demos and MORE at hellwitch.com, Bandcamp, Storenvy, etc.! Buy something!!! Also, I still have my 12,000+ title death/thrash/hardcore video collection available! Write for info! Hail SATAN! Kill posers! Get fuckin' BOOOSTED! GG is god!
|Other information about Hellwitch on this site
|Review: Syzygial Miscreancy
|Review: Omnipotent Convocation
|Review: Annihilational Intercention
|Interview with guitarist and vocalist Patrick Ranieri on April 2, 2012 (Interviewed by Luxi Lahtinen)
|Interview with vocalist and guitarist Patrick Ranieri on March 9, 2015 (Interviewed by Luxi Lahtinen)
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