Guitarist Andy Adcock about the early period of Hellwitch
In 1983/84, when bands such as Possessed, Mantas/Death, Morbid Angel, Master/Death Strike popped up, a new genre was born called Death Metal. These bands were followed by a lot of outfits, such as Obituary, Atheist, Massacre, Cynic and became influential later on. But talking about the American and the complete Death Metal scene as a whole, one band is almost always forgotten to be mentioned, which is Hellwitch. In this interview, guitarist Andy Adcock speaks about the early period of the group that would has deserved more recognition.
Andy, do you still remember how you discovered music and Hard Rock/Heavy Metal in general?
It started with Kiss. My next door neighbor had Kiss Alive, but he had to hide it from his parents. We would listen to it when they weren’t around. I bought it from him. My parents had no problem with it. This was 1975/1976. My older brother would listen to bands like Pink Floyd, BTO, Bad Company, The Who, etc. I liked those also. When I entered high school, I started listening to Judas Priest, Scorpions, Rush, UFO, Riot, Deep Purple, Rainbow, and Black Sabbath. I loved it all. In 1980, I got introduced to Iron Maiden and they were one of my favorite bands. I also listened to the first Angelwitch album a lot.When I met Dave Silverthrash in 1985, he introduced me to Pat, who was doing underground tape trading. I started listening to Slayer, Anthrax, Metallica, Megadeth, Exodus, Possessed, Celtic Frost, Death, Kreator, Destruction. I really enjoyed the intensity of the Thrash/Speed Metal.
When did you start involving yourself in the underground? Did you always prefer underground compared to mainstream/popular music?
In 1985, when I met Dave and Pat. Kiss was the first band that I really became a fan of. Before that I listened to whatever was on the radio. I didn’t start becoming a fan of underground music until 1985.
How did you end up becoming a musician?
When I was 10 years old, I wanted to learn to play the guitar. I lived in the Miami, Florida area and I saw an acoustic guitar in a music store window and kept asking my parents for it. Eventually, they got it for me. I think it was $10 USD. I took guitar lessons at the same store. It was Alfred’s Basic Method and I got through book 2. I could actually read music at that point. I don’t remember if that was a year or more. I eventually got bored with it and stopped taking lessons. I don’t know what happened to that guitar. I know that I kept it for a while and would occasionally play.
In junior high school, I played the clarinet and the alto clarinet in band class. My older brother played viola in the orchestra in junior high school and then learned bass guitar in high school (it was a class at the school). He ended up joining a band and played 70’s rock (Eagles, Aerosmith, etc.). This and my new-found love of rock music made me want to play rock/metal guitar. I started learning songs by ear on my acoustic.
In 1977, my family moved to Clearwater, Florida. I bought my first electric guitar, which was a no-name Les Paul copy and a used combo amp. I also took lessons and learned the pentatonic scales and some songs, including the solos. My guitar teacher was a big Jimmy Page fan and taught me Stairway to Heaven and the solo. From there I just kept practicing and learning songs by ear. I joined a band and we played hard rock covers and some originals. I was made the lead guitarist, even though I was fairly new at it. It was a great learning experience. Even though I could read music way back when I was 10 and in junior high school band, I didn’t after that. I learned music theory once, but got good at learning by ear. Sometimes one note at a time.
Hellwitch was formed in 1984 in Gainesville by vocalist/guitarist Pat Ranieri and drummer Harry Tyler. Do you think that they were the pioneers of technical Death/Thrash Metal?
The pioneering Thrash Metal bands were already out. Possessed’s Seven Churches was a technical death/thrash record. I would say Hellwitch was very near the beginning. Pat and Harry did Nosferatu which is mostly straightforward thrash, but with a touch of technical flair. There were not many bands that I heard at the time that were going for that raw techinicality.
What do you recall of the Florida scene as a whole?
Before I moved to Gainesville, I lived in Clearwater and had heard of Nasty Savage and Savatage. I actually saw Savatage play in a K-Mart parking lot on a flatbed in the early 80’s. I remember being very impressed by Criss Oliva. There is a video of that somewhere on YouTube. Up in Gainesville, we were isolated from the rest of the Florida scene. Since Pat tape traded, we would hear about some Florida bands. Death put out Scream Bloody Gore. I remember us driving to Brandon or Tampa to see Death, Massacre, and Morbid Angel. There were probably other bands, but I don’t remember (sorry).
In your opinion, was this period (1984/1985) the birth of the American Death Metal movement, when a lot of bands were formed such as Death, Morbid Angel, Master/Death Strike, Possessed, Insanity etc.?
Absolutely. I feel very lucky to have been alive during that time and a part of it. Hellwitch played the legendary 1986 Metal Mania show at the Rocky Point Beach Resort in Tampa with Morbid Angel, Massacre, Executioner (who would become Obituary) and other local metal bands. That was a fantastic experience.
How about your musical experiences prior to Hellwitch?
Like I said above, I joined a band in high school that played straight ahead rock. My friend Joe and I start playing electric guitar at the same time and were into the same music. He and I both joined that band at the same time. We all went to the same high school. The band was called Fury. Our one show was at our keyboard player’s brother’s Bar Mitzvah.
My friend Joe and I wanted to play heavier stuff. Eventually, Joe, Mike (drums), Chuck (bass), and I formed a band. The band’s name was Destination. We practiced a lot and played one show. I went off to college and we disbanded. After that, Joe and I formed a band called DA. We tried to get other musicians, but failed. We wrote 6 songs and recorded a demo. After that I moved up to Gainesville and joined Hellwitch.
Do you still remember how you were recruited? Were you familiar with their first demo, Nosferatu?
Dave Silverthrash and I were in the same class at the University of Florida in 1985. We started talking about music and liked a lot of the same bands. He had just started playing drums and I told him that I played guitar. I had been playing for 6 or 7 years. He told me that he knew a guitar player (Pat). He also said that Pat was tape trading and was listening to some of the new thrash bands. At that time I was a big Iron Maiden and Black Sabbath fan, but was looking for some faster, heavier music. There it was. We all got together at a friend of Dave’s house and jammed. We clicked and decided to play some songs together. Eventually Dave and I were asked to join Hellwitch. Pat played me the Nosferatu demo soon after I met him. Did not know about it before then.
Did you join the band at the same time as drummer Dave Silverstein, who replaced Harry Tyler?
Both of you were playing in Thrash Attack, weren’t you? Did you record any materials with this outfit?
There are some videos on YouTube that were taken at live shows by phones. We have never done any recordings for release. We play mostly 80’s Thrash and Death Metal covers. There are some songs on our Facebook page that are rehearsals. They are probably 10 years old by now. Time flies.
Do you agree with the notion that the innovation that Hellwitch brought to the yet undefined death/thrash movement stemmed from vocalist/guitarist Pat Ranieri‘s focusing upon complex compositions, inhuman, high-speed attack and precision above all else?
I agree 100%. I haven’t mentioned it before in this interview, but I was also a big fan of Yes, Rush, and Kansas, so I loved odd time signatures and complex music. I find it fun to play. The fast paced music is also very fun to play. Pat had a vision, no doubt about it. I enjoyed playing those songs. I mostly played the bass, but that was no less challenging. We work hard to be as tight and precise as we were. All three of us shared that passion. Of course, it had to sound good.
In January 1986 you released the Transgressive Sentience demo. Do you still remember how it was recorded?
Yes. We went to a studio in Tampa. I don’t remember the name. We did all the tracking in one day and then went back for the mixing. The engineer was not familiar with that type of music, but it sounds really good. You can really hear Pat’s fast picking attack. It was the first recording that I was on that was for release.
Is it notably rhythmically more advanced and occasionally swaps intense speed for clever use of timing and rhythm than the first demo?
Satan’s Wrath, Tortue Chamber, and Fate at Pain’s End were written between the time we got together and the time we recorded. Pat wrote them and then we got together and arranged them as needed. We did this as a group, but Pat came up with the riffs. We were trying to be more technical.
The third demo Mordirivial Disemanation saw the light on the 1st of June 1987. Was it a better representation of the band? Did you evolve a lot compared to the previous tapes?
I think it was a representation of the band at that moment in time. We were following our natural progression as musicians and songwriters. Dave had been playing drums for about a year when we recorded Transgressive Sentience. He was definitely more skilled with his timing, fills, and double kick drum technique when we did Mordirivial Disemanation. I wrote most of Degeneration, which was my first attempt at a Hellwitch song. It is still has some of my favorite riffs. I was definitely trying to make it technical. Pat was good at adding extensions to parts that were not expected yet great sounding, like in Purveyer of Fear. Also, the backing part to the guitar solo in Purveyor of Fear was an off-time thing that took some time to get tight. We were definitely developing.
A remixed version of Torture Chamber appeared on a compilation LP on New Renaissance Records titled Thrash Metal Attack, which was released in July 1987. Did you manage to draw the fans’ attention to the band?
I don’t know. Pat handled the correspondence. I would imagine that we got a wider audience out of that. However, It didn’t seem like we got much more attention, but maybe I just didn’t realize it at the time. It’s kind of funny, actually, at the time it didn’t seem like we had much of a following. But now, I read that Hellwitch were a big part of the death/thrash movement in Florida. I guess when you are in the middle of something, you don’t realize the impact. For myself, I took it seriously, but I was having fun doing playing the songs and recording.
Did the samplers/compilations, such as Metal Massacre, Raging Death, Beyond Metal Zone, Speed Metal Hell etc. play an important role for unknown acts around those times?
Definitely. A band could get one song on an album that would get nationwide, if not worldwide distribution. It was a great way for local bands to get exposure. We were in Gainesville, Florida, which did not have much in the way of metal bands, much less extreme metal bands. We were pretty much local at that time.
Did the label show any interest in signing the band at this point?
We had a contract with New Renaissance Records for a full album. The thing was that we had to pay for the recording and mixing. We were poor college students at the time. I don’t know why it never materialized. I think that there was a label in Europe (I think it was Black Dragon) that wanted to license an album. Again, we had to pay for the production.
By the way, were all of the demos heavily spreaded in the tapetrading/fanzine network? What caused this new approach, that took its shape in the early/mid 80’s?
No doubt about it. Pat got a lot of great tapes this way. I remember hearing an Exodus practice, when Kirk Hammet was still in the band. He got a rough copy of Hell Awaits with the drum clicks still in the recording. The underground tape trading was a great way to get exposure. Pat was way into that, even before I met him. I don’t know how it got started. I think bands were saying,”Here’s our stuff, send us your stuff”.
Two of these songs made it onto a 7” released by Flight 19 Records that same year, correct?
You are correct, except for the year. I just looked that up. I was not involved with that. It was in 1989, after Pat moved back to Hollywood. I was no longer in the band. Either was Dave.
Would you say that the demos showed an incredible evolution from tuneful and rhythmically adroit thrashers towards increasingly unique and explosively technical death/thrash?
Yes, I would say that. It was all on purpose. We were trying to go in that direction, and I feel that we succeeded.
What made Pat to relocate in July of 1988 to Ft. Lauderdale?
To be honest, I don’t know. I was living in Boston when that happened and did not have much contact with him, because he may have been mad at me for leaving. I don’t blame him, either. To be clear, I didn’t leave because of any animosity toward Pat or Dave. It just seemed that we were not taking off as a band, and I had to look toward my future. I had just graduated with my bachelors degree. Perhaps if I had stayed, we would have taken off. As for why Pat moved back, you’ll have to ask him.
Did you gig a lot back in the day? Were you mostly an opening act for bigger names or did you manage doing headliner shows?
Back then, we opened for bigger bands. Gainesville had a very cool and vibrant punk scene. Our very first show was opening for one of the original Florida punk bands (from Gainesville, of course), Roach Motel. We did a lot of shows in Gainesville opening for Agnostic Front, Corrosion of Conformity, Bad Brains, and DRI. We also had shows that featured all local bands, like Scared of Stares, Mutley Chix, Psychic Violents, Doldrums, Young Pioneers, and many more that I can’t remember (my apologies to those bands). We opened for Anthrax in 1986 in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. We also opened for Charged GBH in Miami.
After Hellwitch, you took part both in Precipice and in Gardy Loo!. What can you tell us about these bands?
In 1988, I moved back to Gainesville to earn my Masters degree. Dave and I shared a house together, as he was also in a graduate program, and we started Precipice. We had actually been talking about it before I moved back. We only had landlines in those days. We recruited Allan Godfrey (guitar), Paul Casagrande (bass), and Brian Wells (vocals). We set up a practice room in the house we were renting with sound proofing and practiced there. Precepice is still alive and kicking. Our current line up is Dave, me, Aaron (guitar and vocals), and Daniel Santana (bass). We are based in Tampa now and are working on the songs for a new CD. We recorded two demos, The Foundation, in 1993 in Holly Hill, Florida and Black Sun Rising in 1995, in Pinellas Park, Florida and a full CD that was released on Crook’d Records entitled Prophet of Doom. Prophet of Doom was recorded at Morrisound Studios in Tampa in 2001. Precipice has had it’s share of personel changes over the years. Precipice has technical thrash elements to it, as well as some other influences. Keep a look out for the new CD.
Gardy-Loo! was formed in 1990 by Ben Meyer (guitar), Richard Bateman (bass), and Craig Huffman (drums). Ben and Richard were in Nasty Savage and they formed this band after Savage’s breakup. Craig was also in an early lineup of Nasty Savage. They were famous for their stage antics and lyrical content. The music was Thrash Metal, Heavy Metal, and Hardcore Punk blended together. They are a very unique sounding band and were famous in the Tampa Bay area. Dave and I both had known Ben and Richard for a long time (Hellwitch had even opened for Nasty Savage at a show in Tampa once) and they were in need of a drummer. So, they recruited Dave. This was in 2000, I believe. Dave and I were still doing Precipice and sometimes I would go to Gardy-Loo! rehearsal with him and hang out. It was suggested that I learn some of the songs and play with them.
Also, it was suggested that I dress up as a big turd. Gardy-Loo! has quite a few songs about feces, as their name indicates. The Turdman was born. Ben and I made what is probably the least expensive stage costume ever created and a giant turd (fabric stuffed with paper). I would come out during the set and do stupid antics, swing the giant turd around, and then play some songs with them. I had a lot of fun. The other members of Gardy-Loo! were great guys and easy to get along with. There was no band drama or big egos. These shows were famous for the toilet paper throwing and the audience destroying the turd while throwing it around. No one can ever legitamately say that they were the Turdman in Gardy-Loo!. When Richard passed away two years ago, Gardy-Loo! was over. He was a founding member. He was a phenomenal bass player, always smiling, a great father, husband and friend. He will be greatly missed.
Do you play in any groups these days? Do you still follow what’s going on in the metal scene?
Yes. Precipice and Thrash Attack are still active. I am also in a band called Pagan Faith. Pagan Faith has been in the Tampa punk scene since the early 80’s. Brian Beezlebrain is one of the founding members and recruited Dave and I several years ago. It is a more metal sounding punk. We play shows and this band is also a fun band to play in. I still go to shows. A lot of the current Tampa metal bands play at the Brass Mug and I am there frequently. As you would expect, there are a lot of Thrash Metal and Death Metal bands in this area.
Andy, thank you for your answers! Anything to add to this feature?
I want to thank you, David and Rattle Inc. magazine for the opportunity to take a trip back in time and give some of the history of the music that I was involved in making. I feel very lucky to still be able to do it at a level that I was back in the 80’s. Hails to all new and old metal fans in Hungary and all over the world.