Singer Jeff Allen about the story of Witch Slayer – Part II
You released a five-tracker demo in 1983. Did you record it at your rehearsal room, or at a professional studio?
We had found a professional sound engineer (Steve Kusceil) from Streeterville Studios in Chicago. Recording studio time was very expensive back then and Steve was willing to work with us on the side. He had built his own recording studio and we recorded that demo with him at his studio in Lake Villa, IL.
How did the recording sessions with the material go? What do you recall from it in terms of songs, performance, sound etc.?
We were fully rehearsed at the time we recorded that demo. The band was kicking ass. We wanted that demo to have a live sound. It was also Sean’s farewell. It went great. It was all analog recording back then. We had Steve Kusceil on the board. I think those were the only originals we had written at the time. But I also think all the planets were in alignment when we recorded that demo. I’m very proud of it. I still to this day love that demo! I think it kicks ass.
Did the content of this demo span from borderline thrashy speed metal numbers to flirting with slower, crushing, almost doom metal moments intertwined within them?
I would agree with that assessment. We’ve always been considered as a US power/doom metal band. Our tempos definitely slow down & speed up.
Are the songs packed with tight riffs, good solos, precise rhythm section and interesting time changes?
If you referring to the 11 song album we’re currently producing, then yes. Witch Slayer is sounding true to form. Note that the songs on this new album were all written back in the early 80’s.
Did you have any goals that you wanted to achieve with Witch Slayer?
I do have a few regrets from Witch Slayer. Looking back the signs were there that we were on the verge of breaking out. I always wanted a Witch Slayer album. I always wanted to play a major show. We just gave up too soon.
On the Metal Massacre IV. compilation appeared five Chicago bands (Trouble, Zoetrope, War Cry, Thrust and Witchslayer). In your opinion, did it help a lot to attract the fan’s attention to the Chicago based outfits? Did it open any doors for them?
That album put Chicago metal on the map. It was internationally released thru Metal Blade. So it definitely made metal fans aware of those 5 bands. It definitely helped all of us. Eternal thanks to Brian Slagel for producing M. M. IV. I believe in Witch Slayer’s case there were many doors that opened as a result of that compilation album. We just didn’t see them.
By the way, do you still recall how the offer to have a spot on it happened? Did you know Brian Slagel personally?
Yes, I know exactly how it went down. In 1983 when the Apple corporation went public, Steve Wozniak became an overnight billionaire. He celebrated by putting on a 3-day music festival in the California desert, the US Festival. One of the days was a metal day. 500.000 people in attendance. Quiet Riot/Mötley Crüe/Ozzy/Judas Priest/Scorpions/Triumph and Van Halen. So the guys in War Cry and Witch Slayer decide to make a trip together to L. A. to check out the music scene as well as that festival. Craig & I knew about the Metal Massacre series and we caught wind that Brian Slagel was working on a 4th edition. So we thought hey while we’re in town we’ll just look him up. Craig & I walked in cold without any notice that we were coming and just handed him our demo. He was just starting out in this little hole-in-the-wall office. We started talking about the Chicago scene and all the bands that were there and then he said he was interested in producing a Chicago themed album. I wouldn’t say that I knew Brian personally, but we did know of each other. Brian is a good dude. Over the years he’s done a lot to give new bands their start as well as promote heavy metal.
Was it Brian’s idea to put I Don’t Want to Die on the record, or was it the decision of the band? Did you consider it as the best Witch Slayer song?
No, that was our decision. We felt like we were giving away all the rights to one of our songs. So we gave Brian what we thought was our shittiest song. Looking back we should’ve given him our best. Yet in hindsight IDWTD is not a bad song. It’s grown on me over the years. The new band is crushing it, I’m loving how it’s currently sounding w/Sean, Ken Mandat & Gabriel Anthony.
The demo got widely circulated and had a lot of positive reviews from a number of metal fanzines back in the day. Was it sold well?
We started a fan club called Witch Slayer’s Crypt and sold some tapes thru that, but we really never made much money. We used that demo as a promotional tool. I think the demo got traded a lot. It definitely got a lot of good reviews. In hindsight it should’ve initially been formally released on vinyl.
You were planning to shop your demo around to see if you could land a recording deal with a major label, did you get any interest from them? Did maybe Brian Slagel offer you a contract?
Outside of M. M. IV, I don’t remember Brian Slagel ever offering Witch Slayer a recording contract. Craig once ran into an A&R rep from Atlantic Records outside a bar on the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles. The guy pulls our ’83 demo tape out of his briefcase. He told Craig we were good, but too heavy for primetime. We almost cut a deal with Jonny Z and Megaforce Records. Not sure why that fell thru.
Regarding the Metal Massacre IV, Trouble, Thrust and Zoetrope got signed and released their debuts later on, but what do you think why Witch Slayer failed to get a contract back then? Were you disappointed by this?
No, I think at the time we looked at Metal Blade as a small fish in a big pond. We had our sights set on the major labels. We didn’t concern ourselves with what the other bands were doing.
You were slated to open for the German band Accept on their first U.S. tour at Chicago’s Metro, but at the last minute, the Accept roadies pulled the plug on you and would not allow the band to perform What happened?
Well, this was the blow that ended the band. We were finally starting to build up a local following in Chicago. I had tracked down the local promoter of that show and gave him a media pack. He liked it and invited us to open for Accept. The show was advertised on the main Chicago rock radio station and it mentioned that we were on the bill. So everyone was psyched to see Witch Slayer. We had no management which was a big mistake. We were just a bunch of kids stumbling thru it all. So the day of the show we arrive to set up and Accept’s roadies immediately pull us off to the side and tell us there’s no fucking way they want to deal with an opening act. I had heard that they did the same shit to a band in New York. They tell us „Here’s $150 now go fuck off”. We were devastated. In turn we should’ve just said „fuck you we’re playing”! Then forced the issue. Instead I sat their listening to the entire Chicago Metro crowd chant „Witch Slayer” for 90 minutes, wondering what the hell happened. It was complete bullshit. I’ve never listened to an Accept album ever since.
On YouTube I found a Witch Slayer gig (Aurora, 10-12-1983). Do you remember this particular show?
I do. That was a gig we did with Zoetrope. Loved those guys. We are using the live tracks from that show to help re-track our unrecorded songs.
It seems you had more songs than the ones were putting on the demo. What were those tracks? How would you describe them compared to the demo?
The songs are all unique in their own way. All have the classic Witch Slayer sound. Crypt, Salem Trials, Vixen, Hang ’em High, Baneful Ruin, Augury, Rocking on Top.
Were you constantly writing new tunes?
Before we ended the band in ’84 the writing was definitely picking up. We had written enough for a full-length album by that time. Craig and I reunited in 2004 and wrote a handful of songs that may be part of a follow up album.
Have you gigged a lot, by the way? Did you manage to do headliner performances or were you mostly an opening act for bigger, more established and well-known names?
We gigged sporadically. We did not want to be known as a bar act. We wanted our shows to be events. We were mainly an opening act but near the end we were starting build up enough material to headline our own gigs.
Would you say that in the mid 80’s the second wave of the Chicago metal scene emerged, with a lot of talented bands such as Devastation, Sindrome, Terminal Death, Transgressor/Firestorm, Genocide/Mass Genocide, Impulse Manslaughter etc.?
I’d agree with that. Any bands that formed after 1984 could be considered a second wave.
What kind of reasons led to the band’s split?
Poor management, differences in musical direction, too much time spent together, personal issues.
All of you went your separate ways What did you do after Witch Slayer? Were there any bands that you were involved in later on?
Once Witch Slayer folded I was done. Went on to live a normal, quiet life. Craig moved to L. A. and started a glam rock solo act. He eventually settled in Arizona and got into film making. He gave up on music. He has a daughter in Yale Medical School. Dale moved to L. A, and was part of a new band. He now lives in Tampa, FL. Father of two daughters. Dale rarely plays music anymore. Rick stayed in Chicago and joined a new band as well. I wanted to get Rick involved in this project we’re working on. No one I’ve talked to knows where he is or what happened to him.
The band seems to be active these days. What made you to get together? What’s the present line up of the band?
I tried for years to get the original band together to record. It would always fall apart for one reason or another. I’ve always felt that Witch Slayer had one great album in them that never got released. It’s haunted me that I’ve sat on this great music since the 80’s and not released it. I finally said the hell with getting the original band back together and focused on getting a new band. I was talking to Ken Mandat from Damien Thorne a few years back and he said he was interested in working on this album with me. I said I’d do it if I could get Sean McAllister back on bass. We then recruited Gabriel Anthony to help us track the drums. I want it to stay true to the Chicago doom metal sound with guys who were on the scene at the time and still live in Chicago. I feel like this will be sort of an all-star Chicago metal band performing Witch Slayer with two original members. So far I’m very pleased with the results. Current line-up: vocals – Jeff Allen (Witch Slayer) bass – Sean McAllister (Witch Slayer, Trouble) drums – Gabriel Anthony (Tyrant’s Reign, Sgt Roxx, Raddakka, Insania, David Shankle, Pamela Moore), guitars – Ken Mandat (Damien Thorne).
What can you tell us about your plans and future?
We are working on formally recording 11 songs we wrote back in the day. 5 from our ’83 Demo and the other 6 are unreleased. We are working off two live shows from the 80’s to track those non-demo songs. 6 of 11 songs are already tracked. We expect to complete all tracking by March 2021. Targeting a summer 2021 release. I’m not sure of the direction we’ll take when it comes to releasing the album. We’re still working thru those specifics. Once the album is released, then not sure what’s next we’ll see.
Did all of you keep an eye on what’s going on in the metal scene during those times?
Yeah, to a point. I’ve picked up on what has stood out over time. I never predicted Metallica’s success. It’s mind blowing. I saw them play a bar in Chicago for $5 on the Kill ’Em All tour.
Thank you for your answers! What are your closing words for our readers?
It’s been such a challenging year for all of us around the globe. I wish everyone & their loved ones peace and good health. Better days are coming. Thanks for your interest and support of Witchslayer. I know it’s been a long time coming but I hope everyone enjoys our upcoming album. It’s the album that should’ve been released in 1984/85. If you like old school metal, then you should like this album. We’re not dead yet.