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 and 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, particularly 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 songs 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 in 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 he 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 local 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.