Portland, Oregon is bursting with metal talent – and Bewitcher are among the US city’s brightest underground stars. Rushonrock’s Rich Holmes met bassist Andreas Magus on the band’s recent UK tour to find out why things are hotting up for both the band and their hometown scene.
If Visigoth are the heroic, Excalibur-wielding knights of the ‘true’ metal revival, then their some-time touring partners Bewitcher are the alley-dwelling vagabonds, waiting to plunge a dirty, rusting blade into your ribcage. The trio’s ‘Satanic speed metal’ machine is fuelled by a volatile brew of Motörhead, Venom and the rawer elements of NWOBHM, and it’s been rampaging across Europe and North America this year, thanks to the success of their sophomore album, Under The Witching Cross. “Metal heart, metal soul, drink from the chalice of rock and roll” bellows singer/guitarist Mateo Von Bewitcher on the title track. It sums these boys up perfectly.
Bewitcher’s self-titled debut hit in 2016 – and immediately turned the heads of anyone getting their kicks from Midnight, Bat et al. But Under The Witching Cross – their first effort for Ohio’s Shadow Kingdom Records – has blown those same heads clean off. Released this spring, it’s heavier, more aggressive, more downright metal. The songs are sharper and noticeably more potent. It has won the Portland three-piece, who formed in 2013, a hell of a lot of disciples. And they’ve reaped even more souls this year, thanks to a frantic touring schedule.
For bassist Andreas Magus, the response to their second full-length has been ‘overwhelming’. “I think we knew we had really good songs and we were writing a really good album but at the same time you just hope people like it,” he says. “As far as people are listening to it and digging it, I wish I could put my finger on it and tell you why it is, I don’t know. It is very surreal being a music fan as long as I have been and to finally be in a band that people dig, especially internationally.
“Having been doing music now professionally for 20 years and having mixed reviews of other bands and stuff, you never get your hopes up!”
Andreas admits that signing with Shadow Kingdom Records has paid dividends for Bewitcher. He views the move as a ‘giant leap’, but one which still keeps the Oregon act – now also featuring drummer (and Portland journalist) Aris Hunter Wales – close to the underground scene which has been their bedrock.
“We had been talking to them a long time,” says the bassist. “We had spoken to a couple of bigger labels, but we weren’t ready to make that leap.
“Working with those kinds of labels… you lose a lot of control. Shadow Kingdom came in and said, ‘we love the band, we love what you are doing, keep doing what you are doing’. That was very important to us.”
Indeed, Shadow Kingdom is a haven for a new swathe of bands feeding on classic rock, the NWOBHM movement and adrenaline-soaked speed metal: the likes of Haunt, Seax, Altar Of Oblivion and Excuse, to name but a few, all feature on its roster. The label is playing its part in championing a movement that also includes festival-hopping successes like Salt Lake City’s Visigoth and Californian trio Night Demon.
Andreas has seen the reconnection with metal’s roots grow ever stronger in a young generation of metalheads. As a ‘metal lifer’ who has been immersed in the genre for 30 years, he provides a valuable insight into this upsurge…
“I attribute (‘true metal’s revival) to things like YouTube and Spotify. Having the ability to find all this music easily has allowed this groundswell to happen with a younger audience – an audience which wasn’t even close to being born when these bands were around.
“Where we are from in Oregon, there are a lot of diehards back there who are 22-years-old. They can tell you more about Virtue and Diamond Head than I will ever know. When I was growing up you didn’t have that access, you had to really seek out that music. All we had access to were the bigger bands. I was a diehard Ozzy and Judas Priest fan and later I discovered Motörhead. That is all we knew. We didn’t know about all this other stuff.”
He continues: “With this groundswell there is this fanbase that is exploding. And the funny thing is that it is happening in the US, of all places. I know there is probably some bands in Europe and England who are making some waves but in the US it is really happening. There are bands that are really influenced by Maiden and Priest, but also all of these NWOBHM bands that no one had heard of before.”
Andreas points to Night Demon – and their frontman (and Bewitcher’s manager) Jarvis Leatherby – as the ‘spearhead’ of this movement. As well as taking Night Demon’s Maidenesque riffery across the globe, Leatherby is the founder of Ventura’s Frost and Fire Festival, where you’ll find NWOBHM bands like Satan and Mythra rubbing shoulders with ‘new breed’ acts such as Savage Master.
“Once we connected with Jarvis we could really see his passion and their passion for this scene and this music,” he reveals. “Jarvis was like, ‘I am going to do Frost and Fire Festival, I am going to bring these bands over here and bring Cirith Ungol back together.”
Bewitcher’s home turf is also proving to be a breeding ground for upstart metal acts who delve deep into the past for inspiration. Idle Hands, formed by former Spellcaster bassist Gabriel (Gabe) Franco, released their debut album, Mana, this year, a seductive fusion of NWOBHM and goth rock. Epic proggers Troll put out their second opus, Legend Master in 2019 too.
Look beyond metal borders and you’ll find the dark, psychedelic new wave of Blackwater Holylight. Portland may be renowned for the quality of its black metal and doom acts, but there’s more to the city than that…
“There is some crazy stuff going on right now,” reports Andreas. “Portland was definitely known for the Cascadian black metal thing, like Agalloch and those kinds of bands and then the doom thing took over, everybody was playing doom metal.
“Then of course Matt Pike moved there so now you have a lot of High on Fire type bands and bands like Red Fang and Lord Dying, and it’s great to see those bands getting out there and doing really cool stuff.
“But I do thing the doom thing got overdone and it allowed this hole to open up for bands like Bewitcher. It opened up this window and Gabe being Gabe, he said, ‘Fuck it all, I am going to create the band I want to be in’ and now you have Idle Hands. And Idle Hands ran through that hole. The Portland music scene got the jolt that it needed!
“We all love Black Sabbath but there are only so many times I can hear the riff from the first album over and over again by every band…”
There’s nothing wrong with drawing inspiration from bands, asserts Andreas. But finding your own path is vital…
He rounds off: “It is easy to lump us into categories of bands like Midnight and Speedwolf that have kept the Motörhead and Venom thing alive for the last decade. But at the same time I feel we have our own ‘injection’. That was really important for us from the beginning. I think we have been able to achieve that and at the same time create a ‘world’. You want to create a cult – we don’t want our fans to just be casual fans!
“Touring with Visogoth and seeing their fans, that passion… we are starting to see that with Bewitcher. And that is really cool.”