HELLWITCH – Patrick Ranieri (Vocals/guitars)
Pat, Hellwitch arose from the depths in October of 1984, how and under which circumstances did the band form? How did you hook up with other former member Harry Tyler?
Harry I and formed the band as college roomates. We had been friends since high school.
Was Hellwitch the very first band for all of you?
Yes, as far as I know.
Originally you came from Gainesville, but the death metal scene developed in Tampa, were you familiar with acts, such as Mantas/Death, Massacre, Morbid Angel etc.?
Yes, I was familiar with those bands through shows we played in Tampa.
Do you consider Hellwitch the pioneers of death metal along acts such as Mantas/Death, Morbid Angel, Massacre, Atheist, Possessed etc.?
Sure, why not. How many FL bands were before us?? not too many I think.
There are several theories how the term „death metal” originated: one theory is the name originates from an early pioneer of the genre, Death; a Florida journalist explained to his readers Death play their own kind of metal: „Death’s Metal” and an others contest Death is not the origin, but the harsh vocals and morbid lyrical content generally inspired the genre, correct?
The band DEATH did NOT have anything to do with originating the term. Harsh vocals...etc. is more accurate. Actually, MOST bands in the early/mid '80s' were called "Death Metal"! in '85 these bands were all called death metal (at least by Floridians): Slayer, Death, Hellwitch, Sodom, Destruction, Possessed, Celtic Frost, etc.
Might the term death metal also have originated from other recordings, Possessed’s 1984 demo is called „Death Metal”, and a song with the same name is featured on their 1985 debut album „Seven Churches”? A demo released by Mantas in 1984 is called „Death by Metal”…
Maybe a bit. Again, MOST bands were called "DEATH METAL" in the mid '80's. Dark Angel, Exodus, etc. ALL were seen as DEATH METAL.
How do you view, that the British band Venom crystallized the elements of what later became known as thrash metal, death metal and black metal, with their 1981 album „Welcome to Hell”? Did their dark, blistering sound, harsh vocals, and macabre, proudly Satanic imagery prove a major inspiration for extreme metal bands?
I'm sure it did. I'm not a big VENOM fan, so I don't know.
Would you say, that another highly influential band is/was Slayer formed in 1981 and although the band was a thrash metal act, Slayer’s music was more violent than their thrash contemporaries Metallica, Megadeth and Exodus and their breakneck speed and instrumental prowess combined with lyrics about death, violence, war and Satanism won Slayer a rabid cult following Slayer released their first album, „Show No Mercy”, in 1983?
I couldn't have said it better myself.
Since Hellwitch began its career as a two-piece band, what do you recall of your rehearsals? Did you start writing originals right from the start or were you mostly jamming on covers?
We rehearsed 2 times and wrote one song, NOSFERATU. We recorded it and released it. That was all the 2 piece did.
You recorded the first demo, a one track venture called „Nosferatu”, in the living room of your apartment in Gainesville, Florida; the track consisted of you on all guitars, and Harry on drums and vocals, you composed the music and the two of them penned the lyrics, can you tell us more about it?
Harry came up with the title/most of the lyrics. I came up with the music. we arranged it together. See previous answer for more info.
Was this effort shopped or spread around or was it mainly done for yourselves to chrystallize your musical path and direction?
It was just for fun.
In February 1985 Dave Silverstein and Andy Adcock joined the Hellwitch ranks; you took on vocals and bass as well as guitar, Andy became the bassist/guitarist, and Dave replaced Harry on drums, how did they get in the picture exactly? What about their musical background?
We were all students at the University of FL. and met in class. Dave had not even learned to play the drums when he joined. Andy played guitar for 5 years by HELLWITCH. Dave learned drums as we practiced.
Why did Harry decide to leave the band? Did he continue his musical career after his departure or…?
He didn't play any instruments and was not really into the band thing.
The band’s first show was on July of 1985, opening for a local punk band, Roach Motel, how did that show go? Did you have enough originals at this point or did the set consist of mostly covers?
I don't recall too much. The set was all covers except for Nosferatu and Satan's Wrath.
Over the course of that year, Hellwitch gained a large local following and opened for such bands as C.O.C., D.R.I. and Agnostic Front and over the next 2-3 years Helwitch grew as one of Florida's death metal pioneers playing with various established bands such as Anthrax, Nuclear Assault, D.R.I, Kreator, Deicide, Morbid Angel, Death, Dark Angel, Coroner, G.B.H., Nasty Savage, and Atheist, does it mean, that you worked hard on building up a huge fanbase? Was it the time, when the band was introduced to the underground fans?
No, we just played shows that came our way. Harry actually became a local concert promoter in Gainesville, so he hooked us up with most shows that came to town. We just played when asked. We were introduced to the UG fans when "Nosferatu" was released in '84.
Was it hard to make a name for the band? Would you say, that the Florida death metal scene started becoming bigger and bigger at this point witch newer acts, such as Cynic, Amon/Deicide, Xecutioner/Obituary etc.?
I don't know. As I said, we never actively tried to "make a name". We just played when we could usually for little or no $$. The FL. scene grew steadily from '85-'92 I would say.
Hellwitch recorded their first studio demo entitled „Transgressive Sentience” in January 1986., what can you tell us about this material? Were you solidly penning new songs?
Those were the first 4 songs we wrote. Very boring stuff. No, we took our time writing about 1-2 songs per year or so.
A re-mixed version of „Torture Chamber” appeared on a compilation LP on New Renaissance Records entitled „Thrash Metal Attack”, released in July 1987, did it help a lot for the band? Did it open for you some doors?
We did receive alot more mail after T. Chamber came out. I'm sure it opened some doors for us.
It was followed by the „Mordirivial Disemanation” demo, released in June 1987...
The '87 demo was recorded on a 6 track recorder in a house in Gainesville! NOT a studio. We thought it sounded better than the '86 demo really. We only had 3 new songs, so we re-recorded „Nosferatu”. That demo got us the deal with Wild Rags Records!
Were the early demo recorded by the same line up or did you go thru some line up changes?
The '86+'87 demos had the same line up.
In July of 1988, you relocated to Ft. Lauderdale, what made you to move there? Didn’t you see any chance in the Gainesville scene or…?
I'm FROM the Ft. Laudeerdale area. I simply returned "home". AND, there was NO future in Gainesville for death metal.
You began auditioning bassists and drummers, did it take long to find the suitable members?
No, I found members within 1 month of relocating.
By the way, did you remain in touch with the former HELLWITCH members? Did all of them remain in Gainesville?
No, I didn't. They did for a few more years, then they relocated to Tampa.
A new lineup consisting of you on guitars and vocals, Frank Watkins on bass, and Steve Rincon on drums, released a rehearsal/demo in March of 1989, how did the guys get in the picture exactly? How about their musical past?
I met Frankly at a Vio-lence/VoiVod show soonafter I moved here. He knew Steve from a previous band. Neither were in any bands that did anything before being in HELLWITCH. I think one of Frank's old bands had a demo out, that was about it.
How did you approach the songwriting at this point? Were Frank and Steve familiar with the previous, early Hellwitch materials?
I wrote all the music and lyrics. Yes, they were both HELLWITCH fans before they met me in person.
It features the tracks „Mordirivial Disemanation”, „Viral Exogence”, and a cover of Death’s immortal „Archangel”, what do you think about this material compared to the previous ones? Did it satisfy the demands of the Hellwitch fans?
Those were the 2 best songs HELLWITCH had at that point. Better than anything on either of the previoius demos. No, I think it was a disappointment really. We had 2 studio demos, then followed with this rehearsal piece of shit! I think the fans were not happy with this shitty release.
Was it a progression in the band’s career?
Musically, yes, sound quality, no! haha!
Soon after, you decided that the level of musicianship left much to be desired, what was your main problem with them?
Oh yea, I mean, Steve had a drum set with 1 cymbal and NO double bass! And his playing was very unenthusiastic. And Frank's bass picking was not up to par. Some bass parts where NOT played properly EVER by him! you can hear on the '89 rehearsal/demo how the drums and bass are lacking in performance. BUT, they were great guys and I love them to this day! Obituary was really more Frank's caliber of musicianship.
How did Frank Watkins end up becoming the bassist of Obituary later on?
Frank went and auditioned for Obituary in late '89 and got accepted.
At that point, you recruited drummer Joe „Witch” Schnessel, and bassist Jesse Trevino, did they come from an death/thrash background? Have they already played in local acts or were they unexperienced musicians?
Joe did, Jesse didn't. Joe was in Malevolent Creation before HELLWITCH and Jesse was a punk rock guitarist in some local bands. They were BOTh immensely better musicians than Frank and Steve!
In June 1989 Flight 19 Records released a 7” single featuring two tracks from the „Mordirivial Disemanation” demo, so it means, that you re-recorded the songs, but, didn’t you think about to put brandnew tracks on the 7”? Didn’t you have enough time to rehearse and to write songs or did you find easier and faster to re-record that tunes?
No, they were NOT re-recorded. They are EXACTLY taken from the demo tape! We had NO inclination to release a 7", but Pierre from Flight 19 Records REALLY wanted badly to release some sort of HELLWITCH 7"! He wrote me and asked more than once! So, I asked what he'd want to put out and he picked those 2 songs. I agreed.
That release quickly sold out, correct? How much items were pressed from it at all?
yes, it sold out fast because there were only 200 total! haha!
Around August 1989 Jesse was replaced by bassist Tommy Mouser, were you perhaps dissatisfied with his achievement or didn’t he fit in the band neither musically nor personally?
That was a mistake! Jesse was MUCH better on bass than Tommy. BUT, Joe found Tommy and Tommy had long hair and came from a metal background! Joe really pushed me to get Tommy and boot Jesse. We did! Only to get Jesse back 1 year later!!! I was glad when we got Jesse back. Jesse had the FASTEST bass picking I've EVER Seen in my life! STILL today I say this!
How do you view, that with the addition of Tommy Mouser the classic Hellwitch line up was formed? In which band did he play earlier by the way?
I don't agree. The CLASSIC line up was with Joe, Jesse and I. Tommy was in Vacant Grave before HELLWITCH.
In October 1989, Hellwitch approached Wild Rags Records and negotiated for the release of the band’s first full length record „Syzygial Miscreancy”, were there still other labels interests in the band? What made you to accept Wild Rags’ offer?
No. There were no other offers.
Did you know bands, that were working with Wild Rags, such as Recipients Of Death, Bloodcum, Gammacide, Blood etc.?
Yes, their albums were in stores in S. FL.! So, we knew Wild Fags at least had good distribution, if nothing else!
While Morbid Angel was signed by Earache, Obituary and Deicide signed to Roadrunner, you signed to a very little, independent label…
When did you start writing the material for the record? Did Wild Rags ask you to hear some preproduction or advance material?
in '89. No, he had the '87 demo and that was good enuff for the Wild fag.
How did the recording sessions go with the album?
It was a “blip” in time! The whole thing was 25 hours total! We spent 3 days there. A few highlights were when Scotty gave us a list of nuts and bolts we had to go to the hardware store and buy for Joe’s rickety drum set! Haha! Also, the mixing of the GODZILLA soundtrack into the “M.D.” intro. That was magical when we first heard it replayed in the studio. And, Scotty’s opinion NOT to use some “wind” sounds on the “Ascent”. I had wanted some wind FX mixed with the 12 string guitars, but Scotty said, “Every band uses wind with acoustic guitar these days, I think just the guitars ALONE would be more original/effective”. He was right I think! Finally, I remember being soooo tired during the mix that we basically just set it up quickly and went for it. No long involved debates or fine tunings. We just set it up and let it rip! Frank (ex-bass) spent some time with us as well then. That was fun!
Did you have a decent budget to record the material?
No, only $2500.
Do you agree with, that this is a very fast, blistering, complex stuff?
Sure, that sounds pretty good.
Would you give us a song by song description?
The Ascent/Nosferatu-first songs I ever wrote for HELLWITCH.
Viral Exogence-best song on the album.
Sentient T.-had to rush and write this just before going into the studio. Has parts I wish we would have changed a bit.
M.D.-This is what I call an "epic". A rather long song with many parts, many moods, many changes, and the GREAT GODZILLA roars at the beginning!
Pyrophoric S.-Best of the "old" songs! Sounds great with that MORRISOUND! Love it!
Purveyor of Fear-BORRRING! Worst of the old songs, thats why it's the last track.
The band members are all talented, and even though many of the songs are short, they’re very complex without being close to anything „progressive”, such as Atheist or Cynic?
Yes, that is accurate. I don't/never have liked "progressive" music, personally.
Joe Schnessel did an incredible job behind the drums, he was on the level of Steve Flynn and Pete Sandoval and I would say, that your growls are very close to Kelly Shaefer’s one…
yes, I agree wiith those statements!
Is this raw technical, with in your face attitude Thrash/Death Metal?
I like to call it DEATHRASH!
Do you think, that „Syzygial Miscreancy” lays down a load of hammering thrash metal with an unruly attitude and some obvious death metal influences in the rhythm department?
yes! we're more Death than Thrash!
Is the instrumentation on this album varied enough to draw the listener’s attention for good?
I don't know. You'd have to ask some listeners.
The album was well-received by the trio’s small cult following, and is more memorable than other death/grindcore releases from Florida and worldwide in 1990, how do you view this?
I agree. We had more originality than most others at that time, I think. I think the originality halted our success really. People in 1990 were NOT ready for such "off the wall" music. NOW people are ready and the re-re-release is selling well!
Did death metal reach its peak at this point? Did the scene become oversaturated?
Yes, and yes! By 1992 bands began to sound the same. Especially if you look at the Suffocation clone bands and the Cannibal Corpse clone bands! SOOOO many bands sound like these 2 starting around '92! sad...
Did the quantity prejudice of the quality considering the amount of death metal bands and releases at this point? I mean, that death metal became the big thing and a lot of bands appeared suddenly -then disappeared suddenly-, they attenuated the scene and while Hellwitch, Massacre, Morbid Angel, Atheist were original the bands started copying each other and the great bands, like you or Morbid Angel. A lot of death metal records were released, but the majority was weak and unoriginal.
Yes, I agree. The loss of originality coincided with the explosion of new bands in the early to mid 90's.
As a big fan of Death and Chuck Schuldiner, how did you view Death’s progression at this point? They started as a pure, brutal death metal band and started turning into a more complex, progressive direction with the „Spiritual Healing” record, right?
They went waaaayyyy DOWNHILL! I only liked the demos and first 2 LP's. Everything else was NOT DEATH in my opinion. Chuck chose a musical path that I did not appreciate.
Was Hellwitch among the less well known fore-runners of the second generation of Morrisound produced Death Metal?
I don't know. I thought we were part of the first generation.
What do you think about, that if the record had been released three years earlier, there's no reason to doubt Hellwitch would have made a bigger name for themselves?
I'm not sure. I doubt it would have mattered.
Hellwitch never quite received the attention they deserved… What was of its reason?
HELLWITCH was too "off the wall" and unusual. NOT "trendy" enough to catch on
The material was recorded at Morrisound Studios with veteran producer Scott Burns, was it unambiguous for you to work Scott Burns with? How about your experiences with Scott?
No, things would NOT have turned out like they are without Scotty. He found a formula that inspired the WORLD. What do I remember from that session??? It was a “blip” in time! The whole thing was 25 hours total! We spent 3 days there. A few highlights were when Scotty gave us a list of nuts and bolts we had to go to the hardware store and buy for Joe’s rickety drum set! Haha! Also, the mixing of the GODZILLA soundtrack into the “M.D.” intro. That was magical when we first heard it replayed in the studio. And, Scotty’s opinion NOT to use some “wind” sounds on the “Ascent”. I had wanted some wind FX mixed with the 12 string guitars, but Scotty said, “Every band uses wind with acoustic guitar these days, I think just the guitars ALONE would be more original/effective”. He was right I think! Finally, I remember being soooo tired during the mix that we basically just set it up quickly and went for it. No long involved debates or fine tunings. We just set it up and let it rip! Frank (ex-bass) spent some time with us as well then. That was fun!
The first album, that was recorded at the Morrisound was Nasty Savage’s debut, would you say, that Scott was introduced for the bands with that work? Why did he become so a popular death metal producer?
I don't know what the first one he recorded was. He became popular because his work always sounded clear, clean and heavy.
As for the bands, that recorded their materials at the Morrisound, did they sound the same or did every band have an own sound?
They all sounded similar, I think. Especially the drums! But, the guitar sounds/vocal sounds differed quite a bit from band to band.
„Syzigial Myscreancy” has sold over 10,000 copies world wide, were you satisfied with that result or did it surpass your expectations? Did Wild Rags do a good job considering tour support, promotion, merchandise and stuff?
wow! It's spelled SYZYGIAL MISCREANCY, for the record. I don't know if it actually sold that much. I was dissatisfied with the sales. They did good promotion for the LP, but ripped us off in the end.
Have you never cut any videos to do more promotion for the record or didn’t you attach great importance to this?
We have done 2 videos for promotion. Yes, it's important to have videos.
What sort of reviews did you get? Were you proud of that reviews and of the material as a whole?
Some good, some not so good. The material yes, the reviews, no.
In late 1990, the band added Jim Nickles as second guitarist, as I as know, he came from Malevolent Creation who were moving to Fort Lauderdale from Buffalo, correct?
Yes, they moved here in '88.
Did you add Jim to the band to sound more brutal in live situation? Did/Do you consider him an experienced, talented musician?
Yes, Jim is a good musician.
You completed successful tours of New Jersey and made an appearance at the 1990 Milwaukee Metal Fest, what do you recall of that shows? How were you welcomed by the crowd?
Yes, I sort of remember them a bit. The N.J. shows were great, but Milwaukee was a small crowd.
In February of 1991, Jesse Trevino returned to the band, Jim left the band and a very successful 4 date tour of Texas shortly followed, why did Jim have to leave the band? What about that four dates as a whole?
Jim had a cocaine problem (and still does today!). As a whole the 4 dates were GREEAT! Some of our best shows EVER! We sold alot of merchandise!
Were there still more shows in support of the record after the Texas gigs?
Yes, when we returned home, we played with M. Creation/Demolition Hammer about 2 months later and then another show one month after that.
While Massacre, Obituary, Morbid Angel etc. made a name for themselves in Europe thanks to the intensive touring, Hellwitch didn’t appear in Europe, why? Couldn’t Wild Rags finance a European tour or…?
No, Wild Fag NEVER paid for anything except making the actual LP's and some shirts he paid to make one time. He ripped us off, as I said!!
In late 1991 Hellwitch acquired a new second guitarist, in the person of Craig Shattuck, why did Jesse leave the band again? From what kind of musical surround did Craig come?
Jesse moved to Texas. Craig came from a King Diamond, non-brutal musical background.
After Jim Nickles left Hellwitch he formed his own band, were you aware of it?
I know he JOINED an existing band about 2-3 years ago called Gorilla Punch, then Vile Vindication... these were 16 years after he left HELLWITCH! Other than that, he was in no other band that I know of.
A 3 song E.P. was recorded in August 1991 at Morrisound for Wild Rags, which became the „Terraasymmetry” EP contains the title track, „Dawn of Apostasy”, and a remake of the 1986 demo classic „Satan's Wrath”, how were those songs penned? Does it mean, that you started writing new material right after the „Syzigial…” sessions or did you write new tracks during the tour too?
They were penned as a band effort, except for Satan's Wrath which I wrote alone. Neither. Songs were written many months after S.M. was recorded.
What about the „Nosferatu” EP, that came out in 1992 too and contained „Nosferatu” and „Torture Chamber” (Live in Pennsauken, N.J.., 02.08.90)? 45 Vinyl limited to 500 copies, was it an official release or…?
yes, it was an official release that I financed/released myself.
„Terraasymmetry” was released in 1992 on Lethal Records and showed just how extreme the level of song composition had become, does it mean that you developed a lot compared to „Syzygial…”? Were you always focusing, concentrating on becoming better musicians?
I guess... it's up to the listener to decide. To some degree. Mainly we focused on writing better songs.
As for the label, how did they end up releasing the EP? What kind of experiences did you gain in connection with that label?
We sent them the studio tapes and they pressed it onto CD. They called me and offered to release the recording since Wild Fag ripped us off and did not pay Morrisound for the recording. We got ripped off by Lethal even more than Wild Fag had ripped us off! With LEthal, we never even got ONE copy of the CD!
„Terraasymmetry” sold 4,000 copies worldwide, so would you say, that it was a successful material too?
Really?? I didn't know that. Yea, that sounds successful to me. haha!
In March of 1992, Joe „Witch” Schnessel left the band, but briefly returned in 1993 before finally departing for good, what were the reasons of Joe’s decision? Did you think about, that it will be a hard task to replace such an incredible, talented drummer, like Joe?
Yes, it was hard!