Lost Apparitions Records has released Darkened Anthology: 1992-2002. The CD features 15 re-mastered tracks culled from the recorded catalog of Virginia-based melodic death metal dynamo WITCH-HUNT, which was active during the decade noted in the CD’s namesake. The physical CD is available from the label or WITCH-HUNT’s Bandcamp page; it is also available via popular streaming and download platforms like Spotify, iTunes, and Amazon Music, among many others.
In 1992, teen brothers Brian and Ben Straight formed WITCH-HUNT at their home in northern Virginia. Initially operating as a two-piece with the former on guitars/vocals and latter on drums, they released three virtually unknown demos: First Kill (1992), Born Dead (1993), and Fearless (1993).
In 1994, Erik Sayenga joined on bass and the band, with that first legitimate lineup, morphed into a power trio and recorded the Darkened Salvation demo (1995). A few months subsequent to the demo’s release, Ben Straight exited, Sayenga moved to drums, and Seth Newton came onboard as bassist.
Under this lineup, WITCH-HUNT released the Prophecies of a Great Plague CD (1996) through Mexico’s X-Rated Records. In 1997, Brian Straight departed the group and Sayenga and Newton assumed responsibility for all WITCH-HUNT’s songwriting and instrumentation, ultimately resulting in the Souls Enshrouded Fire (1999) CD, the band’s first full-length recording and second release on Mexico’s X-Rated Records.
In the early 2000s, WITCH-HUNT’s final recording lineup congealed with Sayenga on drums, Newton and Eric Buchanan on guitars, Kristel Dawn on keyboards, Dave Schmidt on vocals, and Camulus on bass. WITCH-HUNT recorded an untitled demo (2002), and thereafter disbanded.
During WITCH-HUNT’s active years, the band performed live in Virginia and the U.S. East Coast. Their shows included opening for internationally acclaimed outfits like IMMOLATION, GRAVE, DECEASED… Even INTERNAL BLEEDING and DYING FETUS, when those now-legendary brutal death stalwarts were still in their demo days!
In fact, those two bands owed their first-ever shows in Virginia to WITCH-HUNT’s invitation. The band also shared the stage with regional acts like HORROR OF HORRORS (Maryland), ODIOUS SANCTION (Ohio), and INSATANITY (Pennsylvania), as well as northern Virginia fixtures like STENTOR, FORGOTTEN SOULS, DECAPITATE, and SKRAELINX.
Despite the challenges American underground bands confronted during death metal’s mid-‘90s lull, WITCH-HUNT managed to persevere thanks to its members extreme DIY promotional ethic.
This included circulating of 23,000 hand-cut ads, and hundreds of home-dubbed cassettes (and later promo CDs), to a global network of supporters, traders, and friends the band began accumulating when Brian Straight got a copy of the underground’s seminal Chainletter ‘Zine in 1993.
The result was fanzine coverage in 44 countries, and radio airplay in 21 countries, collectively spanning five continents. WITCH-HUNT enjoyed limited distribution in 18 countries; this included not just small-scale specialty stores but established labels/distributors like Relapse Records (United States), Cogumelo Records (Brazil), Moribund (Germany), Osmose (France), Autonomous (Australia), and Pulverised Records (Singapore), among others.
That ‘90s buzz was sufficient to keep Witch-Hunt’s memory alive in subsequent decades, long outlasting the band itself. While drumming for DYING FETUS (1996 on that band’s first-ever North American tour, then 2001-2005 for multiple touring jaunts plus recording the “Stop at Nothing” album) and after forming WARTHRONE, Sayenga frequently chatted with fans who lauded WITCH-HUNT.
The band was honored with an entry in the Metal Archives’ Encyclopedia Metallum (2003); included in Dan Nelson‘s book All Known Metal Bands (2007); referenced in music publication Metal Maniacs (2008); chronicled on DCHeavyMetal.com (2011); and Sayenga and Newton were interviewed for Natalie Purcells’ book Death Metal Music: The Passion and Politics of a Subculture (2012).
Acclaimed graphic designer Mark Riddick discussed his artwork on Darkened Salvation and Prophecies of a Great Plague in Togo Jinzo‘s book Decade of Death (2017), published in Japan. And eBay vendors in the United States and Europe market used copies of WITCH-HUNT’s two CDs as high-dollar collectors’ items.
More than a quarter-century after the Straight brothers first jammed, WITCH-HUNT’s memory has improbably continued resonating in underground circles worldwide. Whereas the buzz the band generated in the mid-‘90s brought the band together first with Mexico’s X-Rated records, celebrating the memory is what brought Lost Apparition Records and WITCH-HUNT together for Darkened Anthology: 1992-2002.
This release gives ‘90s underground metal enthusiasts, be they ones who were actually there or ones who have merely heard the stories of that golden era subsequently, access to the best cuts from Witch Hunt’s decade-spanning catalog in a single product.
The disc’s 15 raw, real songs do not intend to compete sonically with contemporary outfits benefiting from virtuoso musicians, pristine recording technology, and mass telecommunications platforms allowing any band to project its name to the Earth’s four corner at the click of a mouse. Instead, each song on Darkened Anthology: 1992-2002 is a timeless audio testament to the American death metal underground’s analog, pre-Internet era.