The History Of Witch-Hunt

Well since there aren’t any shows I’ll be going to this week for me to review, I wanted to at least write about SOMETHING here and DCHeavyMetal.com reader James gave me the idea of talking about one of the local bands in the area. Well, I didn’t want to deal with picking favorites, so I’ve decided to write a sort of local heavy metal history lesson about a now broken up band from Northern Virginia, Witch-Hunt. Witch-Hunt was a black metal band that formed in 1992, put out a few demos and a couple of full lengths and eventually broke up in 2004. I really didn’t know who they were until an old friend of mine, Dave Schmidt, took over vocal duties for them. I started looking into their back catalog then and digging up their history.

In the summer of 1992 the brothers Brian and Ben Straight formed Witch-Hunt Witch-Hunt - Darkened Salvationand put out three demos over the next couple years, First Kill, Born Dead and Fearless. I’ve never heard these so I can’t really comment on their sound. However, it was in 1994 when Erik Sayenga moved up to Northern Virginia from Florida and began playing with the band as the bass player (even though he was a drummer). This line up put out the demo Darkened Salvation in 1994 which started to get them noticed in the area as well as in the international underground tape trading scene. Again, I haven’t been able to get my hands on a copy of this so I don’t really know what it sounds like. During this early period in the band’s life they were playing local gigs, mostly at the Teen Hut and a place in Dumfries, Virginia called Tiki Fala.

After releasing the demos they put out their first album, Prophecies Of A Great Plague in 1996 on X-Rated Records. By this point Ben had moved and thus left the band and Erik took over the drums. Seth Newton was added to the line up to play additional guitars and also keyboards. The total playing time of Prophecies Of A Great Plague was under 25 minutes long so it’s really more of an EP. A few of the songs are worth hearing, Witch-Hunt - Prophecies Of A Great Plagueparticularly the lead off track Fragments and the track A World Lit Only By Fire. The album’s production is primitive but still listenable. You couldn’t just download Pro Tools from the Pirate Bay back in those days, but there really aren’t any mid-nineties American black metal albums that had stellar recording quality. At that point the band kept it to a fairly slow tempo for black metal. This recording is closer in pace to something like the first two Dimmu Borgir albums (but without keyboards dominating the other instruments) than say Marduk or Mayhem. Hell, this album would probably be called blackened melodic death metal these days. They started playing shows along the east coast until the band went on hold for a little while when Erik Sayenga joined Dying Fetus as the touring drummer and went around the US with them. Upon his return Brian Straight decided to quit the band to pursue a professional career outside of music, leaving Seth Newton to take over vocals and all instruments other than the drums.

This line up, really just Seth and Erik, wrote and recorded nine new Erik Sayenga and Seth Newton of Witch-Huntsongs that they finally released as Souls Enshrouded Fire in 2000, also on X-Rated. This album is quite a step up from Prophecies Of A Great Plague in both production and song writing. The band picked up the pace considerably on this album. They added more keyboards to the mix as well as some guest female vocal parts on a couple songs. The guest vocalist is Dawn Desireé (from Rain Fell Within) and her performance on the song Enshrouded is as excellent as you’d expect from someone who I would call the best female vocalist to ever play Witch-Hunt - Souls Enshrouded Firein a metal band in this area. Her haunting voice makes the track my favorite on the album. Also worth hearing a few times are the songs Ablaze Thy Majestic Kingdom as well as And The Sun Fell Forever, just some solid local old school black metal there. The album as a whole has a much stronger European metal influence in the sound and is one of my favorite black metal releases from the DC area. After this release the band added Richard Johnson on vocals and guitarist Eric Buchannan as well as a guy that I only know of as “Phil” on bass. They started playing more shows with this line up and they severed ties with X-Rated around this time as well.

After drummer Kevin Talley, along with Jason Netherton and Sparky Voyles, quit Dying Fetus to go form Misery Index, Erik Sayenga once again joined Dying Fetus, this time as a full time member. He did a few tours with them and can even be heard drumming on Stop At Nothing, the 2003 full length release by Dying Fetus. During this time Witch-Hunt had several line up changes. Richard and Phil both left the band. My friend Dave Schmidt joined the band on vocals, as well as Fionn Himmel, aka Camulus, who became the new bass player. In 2002 this line up put out a new demo to shop for a new label with. It only had two songs on it but it is by far the fastest and most brutal material the band ever put out. Quite an impressive leap musically compared to their previous releases, though I have to say the mix on the recording isn’t very good. The core of the Witch-Hunt sound is still there, but the songs are faster and yet the band is very tight. This demo allowed them to get booked as the opening act for Polish death metal legends Vader on their European tour in September of 2002. UPDATE: Turns out I got this wrong and this was really Erik touring with Dying Fetus opening for Vader. Do’h!

While the band seemed to be doing better than ever they were suffering from a lot of internal strife. Unfortunately they ended up disbanding in the fall of 2004 due to continuous infighting. Erik Sayenga quit Dying Fetus in 2005 and focused on other projects, including Warthrone. In that band Ghost Storm Eulogy by WarThronehe joined former Witch-Hunt vocalist Richard Johnson and they actually retooled the songs from the Witch-Hunt 2002 demo. These songs were released on the first Warthrone album, titled Ghost Storm Eulogy. The band has since moved to Florida and I haven’t really heard anything from them since. Erik also played in a band called Mordichrist with Chaq Mol of Dark Funeral. It’s a pretty interesting project that is worth checking out, sort of black/sludge/doom with female vox. Witch-Hunt bass player Camulus went on to do his own thing in a solo project also called Camulus (changed name to Fuamnach at some point) as well as playing with the folk metal band Andsvara. My friend Dave, who is only on Witch-Hunt’s final recording, went on to play in several other Wolfsschanze - Dave is centerlocal metal bands, notably Bethledeign, Black Horizon and as one of the two founding members of Wolfsschanze. Now he’s a machine gunner in the US Army. Brian Straight apparently now lives in Colombia and I found a blog post of his from about a year ago that was very useful in researching this blog post. I’m not sure what happened to the other members of Witch-Hunt. Since Witch-Hunt broke up before the days where every band had a MySpace page you won’t find them there. They used to post some of their songs for free download, though their website is long gone now. So if you’d like to hear them I’ve taken the liberty of uploading what material of theirs I do have and you can download that here for free. I have also posted all of the old flyers and photographs I’ve found of the band doing research for this post, most from the mid nineties. Some are old pictures of the band with people like Corpsegrinder, Jason Netherton of Misery Index, John Gallagher of Dying Fetus, and even one with the legendary Chuck Schuldinger. You can check all of those out here. If anyone in the band is pissed I’ve posted these let me know and I’ll take them down. If anyone reading this has got any of their demos from before Prophecies Of A Great Plague I’d love to hear them, leave a comment and maybe we can work out a way where I can get a copy. I hope you all enjoyed hearing about this once great band from the DC metal scene, they were too good to just be forgotten so hopefully this post will help keep their music alive.

13 Comments

  1. Well holy smokes dude… This is Brian, original guitarist in Witch-Hunt. Amazing that people still think of us. I am a US diplomat now doing a 2-year assignment in northern Mexico, and would you believe that at the first death metal gig I went to shortly after arriving here… I signed autographs and took photos with some folks who remembered us and wanted a keepsake? Odd, but since X-Rated Records, our original label from 1996-2001, was in Cuernavaca, Mexico (and Mathias, the German who used to run it, still lives there), it makes sense they’d remember us better here than anywhere. Anyhow man, contact me if you like at my personal address: brian.m.straight@gmail.com. Let’s hook up and share some memories! And thanks for taking the time to write about us- this post of yours brought back a lot of memories.

  2. Holy shit- this is amazing! This is Ben, the original drummer. You can email me at benstraight@gmail.com. Long of the short- I own a law practice and teach undergraduate, graduate, and legal studies down in Tampa, Florida.

    Thanks for keeping the scene alive even after the Traitors! (this is my shout out to Misery Index) abandoned it….

  3. Okay, now do one on MALEFICE!

  4. I’ve got a copy of the “prophecies” demo. Well
    worth the listen. Also you should look into
    listening to a band called Death Con 1.

  5. This is Richard Johnson, former vocalist of Witch-Hunt and Warthrone with Erik..we actually have another full length Warthrone album (9 songs) that has been finished for quite some time..but we’ve all had “life issues” since then and havent been able to put it out. If your really interested in hearing it, feel free to email me at Warthrone2@hotmail.com and id be glad to send you a copy! Erik and i are still brothers (since the age of 12, we got into underground metal together) and we still talk literally everyday. Life can be a strange thing…im married and have a daughter now, Erik is married and runs the greatest haunted house in VA every september/october called Wicked Woods Haunted Forest. Check it out!! Awesome bio man, i really enjoyed it and it made me extremly nostalgic! Good job!

    • Hey everyone, Erik Sayenga here.. very cool reading this! I actually have a bunch of Souls Enshrouded Fire cds left if anyone wants one email wickedwoodshaunt@gmail.com. Warthrone are still technically from Va but Richie lives in Fl and we are releasing our new album Venomassacre 4-4-14, everyone check it out at http://www.warthronemetal.com & Thanks again for this awesome article!

  6. Hey man, I know I’m really late, but could you re-upload the band’s discography on a different site now that Megaupload is defunct? The stuff I’ve heard of this band on YouTube is amazing, and it’s very hard to find any of this band’s CDs. Thanx alot man.

  7. Thanks for the excellent review of Witch-Hunt and the update on some of the bands members. This is Eric Buchanan former guitarist, glad to hear from Richard, Brian and Ben on here as well. As most of the rest of the bandI have been busy in life getting married with 4 kids and working through issues that followed brain surgery that left me partially paralyzed on my right side. I’m still trying to pickup the guitar again and maybe one day i’ll be able to play like I used to. If anyone is looking for copies of the songs you can email me at ejbuchanan@comcast.net and i’ll try to send you mp3s of most of prophecies album, souls enshrouded fire or the promo from 2002.

  8. Ben! Tim Joyce here. Man, my brother and sister were just asking what your band’s name was. Of course I remembered. I found this site…very cool of this guy to write about you. Man, I wish I still had a copy of Prophecies of a Great Plague! Dude, you need to call me.

  9. This is Shawn, Tim’s brother. Ben and Brian were a couple real cool dudes. I still remember the album cover!

  10. Brian! Dude we need to reconnect. You guys need to get back together so I can be your roadie. Chief Stage Assembler, First Class. Ben, quit your damn law practice and get back behind the drums. -Tim

  11. Post all your stuff on YouTube. We’ve come a long way from the damn Quantico Library cd-roms of Microsoft Encarta!!!

  12. Hey, anyone who wants to hear all of the old Witch-Hunt demos can send me an email at ovfireandthevoid@comcast.net, a friend and I met up with Brian Straight several months ago (he’s since gone to Brazil) and he gave us CDs with all the demos burned onto them. Darkened Salvation is definitely the best of all the band’s material.


Comments RSS TrackBack Identifier URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s