Witches Hammer Interview

“Witches Hammer is an incredible black/thrash metal band that were around back in the mid 80’s and were always sort of a cult band and having several of their releases re-issued in one form or another. Well the band recently got back together and recorded some old tunes and a couple new tunes for the Nuclear War Productions release “Damnation Is My Salvation” and here is a great interview I did with guitar player Marco Banco”

  • Where did you grow up and how were you as a kid?
MB: I was born in the city. In the Italian community. Music was a considerably large part of our life. For whatever reason, no accounting for taste or attraction to sound, I was always drawn to the obscure and heavier sounds that were pouring out of the neighborhood and the television. It would stop me in my tracks. I became very obsessed with the whole sonic aspect, and visual complexion that the groups in the 1970’s were projecting.
The city was alive in the 1970’s. A pulsing organism that had its own identity. Like every other major city in those days, it’s DNA was its own in comparison to any others. The originality of its inhabitants, the lifeblood that ran through its veins. The decay and its struggles in the east end, like most in the west at that time, were the heartbeat of innovation, the impetus for fashion, style, subjugation, musical and artistic revolution and innovation.
In 1975, Groups like Kiss, Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, Aerosmith and Led Zeppelin were massive. They were heavy, bombastic, and brought a complete upheaval onto the landscape. Parents and the orthodoxy railed, the teens took it on as their sigil and raised their flag. It was tough, aggressive and radical for the time. The sixties were dead. The Peace, love, flowers and beads, were plowed under.
Denim, leather, street gangs and turf rose up hard. The grinning stoned hippie was replaced by a menacing response to the failure of the previous generation. The high schools were rife with an attitude that projected a style which was reflected by the power of the sound they were attracting.
  • So what event or events led to you picking up a guitar and learning how to play it?
MB: What caught me young to learn guitar. A really cool part of the late 1970’s that caught my attention, were these obscure names that I started to see tagged on the walls whenever my folks took me back into the city to visit the family. D.O.A, The Scissors (they had the deadliest symbol). The Subhumans, Bludgeoned Pigs. This was provocative, I wanted to know what it was. As always, for whatever ran through my genetics, I was totally drawn to this panoptic. Very much like the back alley drug addled New York glam scene of the early 70’s, that was cool as hell to me by the ways, I venerated that whole texture. What an audacious, ballsy, fearless presence.
This seemed to have a lot of the same schematic and illustration behind it. Then the style started to appear, the outrage, the shock, the violation. Oh my, the raging, gnashing howling fury that rose up through the newspapers and radio. Sheer terror and hatred, bloody glorious.Safety pins and chains through cheeks, a pale cast against black leather green Mohawks and blue spiked hair. Stranger days to think what an outrage and uproar this actually caused at that time. But seriously compelling.
The Sex Pistols and the Ramones, especially the Pistols, damn, what an abrasive group of generators. Fast, ugly and a wicked expression. These groups that dwelled within the underground of the city, in the worst bars and untouchable places. Flanked by the imposing distortion and vibration of Judas Priest and Motörhead, what a privilege to be growing up along this river torrent of constant originality and innovation. Revolution through sound. Creation in style and indomitable approach. Molly Hatchet, Iron Maiden, Saxon, Sabbath, Priest, Motörhead. It was on all day every day.
I really wanted to get a guitar an amp. It was a tough sell on my folks. I’d finally convinced them to lend me $75 for a guitar. It was a cheap piece of shit, but I played that axe raw every damn day, trying to hack out these heavy riffs that were flooding out of the stereo. I’d been cutting my teeth over at mike deaths (Procreation/Witches Hammer) parents basement, he played the drums then, this was around 81/82. We called ourselves Death, and then I was keeping the name Oblivion around just for something to use.
In 1983 my best friend, Glen Nocturnal, went on a work trip with his dad down to LA one weekend, when he came back he called me to walk over and check out the cool vinyl he grabbed while he was down there. That was a day to remember. Exciter “Heavy Metal Maniac”, Kill em All, Show no Mercy, Merciful Fate Melissa. That was it. Everything changed.My brother looked at me while we were cranking Melissa and said to me,” start a band like this.”
  •  What were the early practices like? Were your parents supportive of you being in a band at such a young age?
MB: Well, underground music that was slowly emerging to the surface. There were so few of us back then that it was an instant rapport, camaraderie, like a union membership brother hood that easily found amity and alliance. So with that, we figured out a list of songs to learn and set up a jam session over at bass player Goddards mom’s. The first ever set list to be jammed in Vancouver BC that consisted of fast speed metal (thrash wasn’t a term yet at that time.)
The year was 1983, the song list that gave birth to Vancouver’s extreme metal scene were; Violence and Force, Delivering to the Master, The Four Horsemen, March of the Crabs, Black Magic, Metal Militia, Seek and Destroy, Witching Hour, and a couple Saxon tunes. Easily one of the best days ever.
The energy in that basement was towering, Buy the time we decided to call it an end, we were drowning in a pool of sweat, and grinning like demons. bloody fantastic. We were a fuckIn band. At this point hit the woodshed with a lot of unrestrained, unchained teenage storm. The new groups that were crawling out of the shadows, this wicked fast, heavy raw sound seemed a constant wave at this point.
Every week a new album on the same tip with a completely different take and complexion on the style. This was art, this was musical revolution, this was ours. 13Carriage_Ln
Exciter, Venom, Razor, Metallica, Slayer, Bathory, Sodom. Those were fantastic days. School was in session, we were full on, planting our flag on our small piece of turf and holding class.
  •  So early on, I was like you, discovering all these new bands and they were blowing my mind as well. Now at what point did you start to attempt to write original songs and which band members wrote the music?
MB: As soon as I picked up a guitar I was writing original music. I always wrote the majority of songs.
  • What would you say your early influences were on the guitar?
MB: Ace Frehley. I wanted a guitar because Ace Frehley looked cool as hell. Then when I started to learn more, Jake E Lee, Al Dimiola, John Sykes, Dave Carlo, Hank Sherman, Michael Denner, Mike Sifringer.
  •  So obviously you knew about the underground and I’m sure tape trading and stuff. Now how soon did you want to go in to record a demo or rehearsal tapes and start to spread them throughout the underground?
MB: Once we got the sound we were looking for, we hit the woodshed with a lot of unrestrained, and unchained teenage storm. Not to mention there were new groups that were crawling out of the shadows constantly. This wicked, fast, heavy raw sound was a ceaseless wave at this point.
Every week a new album on the same tip, but with a completely different take and complexion on the style. This was art, this was musical revolution, this was ours. Exciter, Venom, Razor, Metallica, Merciful Fate, Slayer, Bathory, Sodom. Those were fantastic days. School was in session, we were full on, planting our flag on our small piece of turf and holding class.
We figured now was a good time to hit an actual studio and cut a demo. We looked around to find something we could afford. We were all just kids still, nobody had an actual job yet, so money was an issue. Fiasco bro’s studio New Westminster BC. We phoned up Len and Paul Osanick, They told us about their new 48 track scorpion board and they were excited to use it. Cost was reasonable, analog recording was very expensive. The 1/4 tape and all the other tapes for the mastering and the takes were very costly.
Not to mention the hourly rate. So unless you were on a label, this was all on you. Better get as tight as possible and hit it live off the floor with as little re-takes or overdubs as possible. Took us from our first jam in 83 until late in 1984 to finally get in the studio.
  • So before I go further how did you come up with the name Witches Hammer? Were any other names thrown around?
MB: Originally we called ourselves Death, that was when I first started to put riffs together. After that we called ourselves Oblivion. But for whatever the reason, it never really felt like a proper title. One afternoon in Junior High school I was exploring the occult section of the library, I came across something titled the “Malleus Mallificarum”. The Hammer of the Witches. Signed it out, read it. Witches Hammer. Perfect.
  •  So now in 1985 the band released your 1st demo, which was self-titled. Was this a more rehearsal or an actual demo? How did it feel to have something out on tape? Did this demo get spread out much throughout the underground with tape trading and stuff?
MB: This was an actual demo. As a matter of fact, we made so many basement cassette tapes, that we went back finally and dig through them going all the way back to 1983 up until 1988. There is a lot of good material there. So much so that we decided to record a new album with some of the old songs we never cut. Which became “Damnation is my Salvation”.
It was excellent to have an actual demo, because there was no Bork se playing this kind of music in the early 1980’s here in Vancouver. So we were able to hit the ground running very early and get into the shows that started coming through then. Exciter on their “Violence and Force” tour, Exodus “Bonded by Blood” tour, Metal Church 1984 tour etc. The good stuff, the new stuff. The best.
  • So the morale of the band must have been pretty good at this time. I assume you sent the demo out to the early fanzines that were around? If so what were the reviews like?
MB: Yeah. We were kids with nothing else going on but high school and all the remedial junk that goes along with it. So to be able to perform shows in the city was a big deal to us. We did a lot of tape trading back in those days. Magazines, college and university radio, other bands. We received a decent response. Nothing overwhelmingly good, but it was all cool with us because this was our thing.
  •  So the next year (1986) you released a new demo called “Damn Fuckin’ Rights”. Did you go in the same studio as demo #1? Was it easy coming up with songs for demo # 2? Was this demo put out with the hopes of possibly getting signed or that wasn’t on your mind?
MB: Yeah. We had the next 5 songs pretty much ready to go by the time the first demo was out. We hit Fiasco Brothers again of course and the whole process went by much faster. We didn’t do many retakes or overdubs. Just played live off the floor, mistakes and everything. Recorded over a weekend. Mixed down a bit. Done in a less than a week really. A deal would of been cool, but we really, at that time, just wanted to lay down what we had so we could move on to the next thing.
  • So we go to 1987 and you record a 3rd demo? Was this done at the same studio? How many songs were on this one? What was the response in the underground to this one like?
MB: We never actually recorded a third demo. That was just something our greasy manager put together of already recorded demo tracks. I never paid any attention to it because it was stuff we had already done.
CF; Ok fair enough. Next up in 1987 an EP put out by Subversive Records.  How did you hook up with them? Thoughts on this release these days? I imagine original copies of this must got for a lot?
MB: In late 86 the punks in North Delta were the kids putting on all the shows,  DIY magazines and radio. So they decided to start a record company. We were the band from town they chose to sign first. David Spicer and Mike Hammersmark. Great kids. Excellent time for music. We were all very happy with the eps. The product really encapsulated our thing, from our place in our time.
  • Now the band broke up in 1989. What led to the break up? Was it one thing or a combo of a bunch of different things? At the time were you sad to see the band end or was it time to move on, which you did and that will be in my next question?
MB: The years between 1983-1989 were huge for us. They were, because that was our time. Our minor artistic and musical revolution. Also from the ages of 13-19, people change. They change so much. We all were no exception. Things change naturally for better or for the worst. Ideas change, the one for all, all for one linear focus of the people involved begin to branch off. The singular ideal becomes old.
Some go off to college and university, some move into political ideas that separate each other from one another greatly. People grow out of the fashion, others head off to work and family, but the real catalyst, the real cancer and killer of what was so great in Vancouver, was the ever increasing violence.The jocks were long gone, but in their place, the skinheads in Vancouver began to grow quite large, the violence at the shows became rather expected. It got ugly. In fact, I would often wonder in 1988 “why would anyone come to these shows anymore?” This wasn’t fun at all. Who wants to ask their girl: ”Hey! Wanna go see the show? Maybe I’ll get the living s#%^ beat out of me because I’m there. Hell, maybe I can watch you get your head kicked in by some knuckle dragging Neanderthals, sounds like fun to me, LETS GO!!” Yeah right ,f#%^ no!
So with that, as good and as massive as it was. As creative and as unique and important to our city as it is. As all things ebb and flow, it was time to let it burn down and go follow. So we did. Also by 1989, the drugs were a tsunami in the city. Heroine and other hard drugs were blowing in on the toxic winds that would wipe out the early 90’s like a brush fire. The political and ridiculous Nazi skinheads seeking out communist hippies was utterly embarrassing. It wouldn’t last, but it did its damage. For myself, I was 19 now and ready to move on. So after our final show at the smiling Buddha. The infamous Buddha. The club that burgeoned the 70’s punk scene. Ground zero for Vancouver’s independent music scene. DOA, Subhumans, Young Canadians, Modernettes and many others made their reputations there.
So on that stage with Armoros, we layed it down in 1989 for 2 nights. The final show, the nail in the coffin. I’m glad we recorded the two nights. The final shows for us and the club. The Smiling Buddha closed their doors after that gig too. That was that. The end of our era. A 6 year storm had passed.
But the seeds were layed. The clouds blew past and that far off sound of thunder carried itself away, distant, fading out. So with that, a new breed of style emerged in its wake. Loaded, violent, psychotic. As for me? I kicked back, reflected, had a drink and relaxed for a minute. Within a week of Witches Hammer Calling it a night The phone rang. I answer – “Hello?”
Caller -“Marco, it’s Black Winds ,hey brother……..By The next week I was a member of Blasphemy. Of course I first did the west coast tour down into San Francisco. Then we finished the songs they were working on. Entered Fiasco Bros studio and recorded Fallen Angel of Doom.
  • Now how was it going into to record the album “Fallen Angel of Doom” release? Were the songs pretty much ready to go when you joined the band? Did you have any input in any of the songs? You know nowadays this release is considered a “cult classic” to some?
MB: I joined up just after “Blood Upon the Altar” was released. We worked on the album for about 6 months. Most of it was written. There was just some issues with the drumming that needed to be finished. That was that. Real easy otherwise.
  • So now was that the only release you played on? Did you do any other live shows with them? Did they ask you to become a permanent member at any point?
MB: I was a permanent member from the day Black Winds asked me to join. I was with Blasphemy for 3 years. Performed some shows in US and a bunch in Canada. At this time, we were writing music for the second release, “God’s of War.”
  •  So what made you leave the band? Was it a good parting of the ways or did it get nasty at all? Were you just burnt out with the underground scene and just wanted a break?
MB: Hard drugs became part of the day. So I split. I knew where this was all heading, and it did. So instead of waiting around to see what was going to happen, I left ahead of schedule.
  • In 2003 you joined Procreation drummer Tom Komizarski and Witches Hammer bass player Steve Nieve, for a short lived project called “The Chargers”. Did you play any live shows or record anything as a band? Why did this band break up?
MB: No, that was just a weekend barbecue party that we recorded. I’m surprised anybody received that really. We never broke up because it was never really a band. Just a fun few days.
  • So now how did the formation of the band Tyrants Blood start in 2006. Was this started by you? If so, how did you go about finding members?
MB: Tyrants Blood was formed under extreme duress. I really had no desire to perform in a live act at that time. The original drummer, Kevin Volatile, was seeing this chick I used to date way back in the 1800’s. She suggested a bunch of times that I should join up with him and write some music. Vancouver at that time was all comedy metal acts. Nothing really serious, save a few bands. But the majority were not a scene of Interest to me to become involved with. Kevin then pesters me for 2 years. Finally, in 06, I had some time on my hand. So I drove the gear to his studio. Something really cool happened that day. There was a massive fire, the whole Industrial park was in flames, the black smoke billowed out for kilometers. I couldn’t see a damn thing except for hundreds and hundreds of now displaced crows flying in panic throughout the smoke, I drove through at about 20 for a good 30 minutes or so, Came out on the other side grinning like an idiot, and totally inspired. That’s how that band started.
  • Did you think after the band that was it for you being in bands and being in the music industry?
MB: No. It was right around that time that I started archiving old cassette demos, and music that I discovered so many unreleased song, unfinished songs, lyrics, riffs. Stuff I had written with Witches Hammer way back between 83-89. It took about a year to compile everything together. Then of course in 2018, after discussing the idea of recording these songs and perhaps giving the demo songs a proper treatment, that we get them on. If just for ourselves really. But in talking with Yosuke (Nuclear War Productions), he said “send it to me when it’s ready. ”So he could hear what was going on. He liked it. So there it is.
  • So Nuclear War Productions got in contact you about re-releasing some of the old Witches Hammer stuff? Did you have everything saved from back then? What was it like listening to that material again?
MB: In early 2000’s? Yeah. It was ok. I’m not a fan of listening to my stuff. I kinda just let it go once it’s done. Playing is cool, but I’ve never been that much into listening to the old stuff. Of course, it’s just 4 track demo cuts most of those old recordings, so it’s real raw and live off the floor.
  •  So in 2003 you had a compilation released, you had 2 in 2005 and another in 2012. For a band that was not known and almost a cult like band, does this in some ways amaze you. Did you have a hand in all these releases?
MB: Not really. With our ties to bands like Blasphemy, Procreation, Karrion, being the first band of this extreme style in Vancouver. That our scene started in our small town. Especially with the popularity of nostalgia and audio files that love to seek out origins and the well spring from where things flow, I was never too surprised. Personally, I’ve always been attracted to history, where things begin, from what and where. So this wasn’t too remarkable to me.
  • So in 2018 you decided to reform the band. Did you know how many original or core members would join up with you? Who did you contact? Did anybody say no? Once you got started around how long did it take for things to take form so to speak?
MB: I was the most skeptical about the reformation. RAY, Steve (bass) Mike (guitar) and also Dan, (Steve’s replying 87) agreed to move forward with the idea. The consensus was, that we had a lot of music unrecorded on cassette tape, and all the demo songs were never recorded onto an album with a proper master. So that become the catalyst to do this. We were going to be the 4 members from 84-89, but unfortunately Steve and Mikes health issues wouldn’t allow them to participate once this got started. Which was very disappointing for me. But AJ and Jesse filled in very responsibly and properly. All together from the time we first talked about this, up until our first session, about 4 months.
  •  Now before I move on, how sad were you at the time to learn that former drummer John Prizmic had died of a drug overdose in December of 1997? Were you very close with him when he was in the band and did you keep in contact with him regularly when the band broke up way back when?
MB: Obviously that was a terrible time. John was a great friend and created an entire musical landscape in our city. There was no speed metal, thrash metal before I met the guy. A lot of firsts with John. Also a main reason behind us reforming and recording the music we wrote that we never archived properly to an album. The demo songs too. Give them a proper master. A monument to his creation.
  •  That is fantastic to hear. So in 2018, and correct me if I am wrong, the band went and played the 1st ever the Never Surrender Fest in Berlin, Germany. I know why you picked an overseas gig for your first show back as metal over there is 10 times better than here in the trendy US with all its nu-metal, jump metal and jump on the bandwagon trends. How smooth did the comeback show go? How well received was the band after being away for so many years?
MB: Ha, not smooth at all. I had food poisoning 3 days before our flight. Was in a cold sweat when I boarded. 1st flight, elderly gentleman has a heart attack. Delayed 2 hours.  Connecting flight. Woman has a stroke, another 2 hour delay. I arrived at the theatre 30 minutes late. Everyone is on stage, no effects, wearing an old stank hoodie and dripping with sweat, sick as a dog. Plug in, crank the amp to 11. Off we go. It was mental.
  • For someone sort of new to the underground what would you say the band sounds like?
MB: If someone asked me; What does witches Hammer sound like?
– I’d say; Do you ever listen to, or know any of the metal bands like Possessed, Destruction, from the early 1980’s?
If they said no I’d ask them what speed or thrash bands they’re familiar with. Then go from there. If they are only familiar with Metallica, Slayer, Pantera etc, I’d say,;
Well , we don’t sound anything like the stuff those bands have released in the last 25 years. We are much more like the original sounds of the 1980’s.
  • Now to get back to your latest release for a minute, how easy or hard was it for you to exactly decide what songs were gonna be on it and what songs needed to be re-recorded?
MB: As I went through the old cassettes, I simply went song by song. Brought them to the rehearsal studio, and worked them out with Steve. Some already had lyrics.
After we got 5 together, I told the guys I wanted to record some of the 85 demo tracks properly. That was that, done.
  • Do you have many social media sites/pages and please plug them?
MB: There’s only a Facebook page and Instagram Witches Hammer page. Nothing else. Except of course Nuclear War Now Productions and Iron Tyrant Productions.
  • CF: Horns up for doing this long ass interview. Any last words to wrap this interview?
MB: Right on. Last words. I’m curious if people will get the weird story that’s told between the first 4 songs on this album. There actually a bit of a tale told there. It’s wrapped up in the final song, 9 pillars. Of course we get it because we wrote the f}%%^* thing. If people get it, that would be real cool. That’s it.

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