New Zealand Music Month: Witchrist

It’s New Zealand Music Month this May. New Zealand’s annual celebration of homegrown music. Generally, that involves a lot of mainstream media highlighting a lot of mainstream acts. So I’m here to try and redress the balance a bit.  I’ll be posting a link to some rowdy New Zealand music for you to check out every day over the next month. Some bands will no doubt be familiar; others I hope will be fresh to your ears.

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Witchrist

I don’t spend very much time mourning the break-up of any band. Mainly because I’m convinced that most bands are only capable of making inspired music for a fairly short period of time anyway. That’s not to say that I think that every band that’s released a few albums automatically creates pedestrian garbage. But the point is, if a band that you find fascinating does break up early on, then at least that leaves you with some great music, and saves you from witnessing a possible creative catastrophe in the future.

That’s a succinct way of explaining how I’m feel about the recent break up of Auckland-based death/black metal band Witchrist. Although, to be honest, the chances of any creative disaster befalling the band were probably around nil. Still, the band did draw a halt to their career in December 2014, and I’ve been reminding myself of two crucial elements in the tale of Witchrist’s demise ever since.

First, the band have recorded some of the most commanding metal ever released from New Zealand’s shores. So, yes, it’s sad the band is gone. But I’ve got no complaints to make about the band’s legacy, ever. 

Second, the band called a halt to proceedings on their own terms. With zero online fuss. Which counts for a fuck of a lot in the age of epic Facebook statements/meltdowns. 

Much like Diocletian, with whom Witchrist shares a couple of members, Witchrist have been on the receiving end of increasing international recognition over the years. Chiefly because Witchrist also produce decimating death metal that’s honed to a skull-cracking edge. 

Diocletian and Witchrist share a similarly churning cadence and doom-laden accent. However, where Diocletian primarily deals in battering war-metal, Witchrist have always evoked an atmosphere that was far more esoteric than it was militaristic. There’s a lot of raw black metal’s villainy and viciousness to be found in Witchrist’s sound. Along with plenty of fittingly cryptic occultism and death worship too. So if you’re a fan of the ominous odes of bands like Teitanblood or Wrathprayer, then the hammering horror-filled death metal found on Witchrist’s two formidable full-lengths––2010’s Beheaded Ouroboros and 2012’s The Grand Tormentor––is bound to suit.

Both Beheaded Ouroboros and The Grand Tormentor are loaded with brute musical muscle, and abundant malevolence. They’re amongst the heaviest and most remorseless death metal records to have ever been released from any band this far south of the equator. And you’d hope, given Witchrist’s demise, that those albums are duly recognised for the classic pitch-black death metal releases that they are. 

Witchrist were/are a fiercely underground band with a strong sense of independence and determination. Probably the most pertinent example of that autonomous ethos right this second is the fact that the band would want absolutely nothing to do with any list like this one that collectively catalogues New Zealand bands. Witchrist stand on their own, or at least alongside their Doom Cult brothers in arms Diocletian, and the uncompromising temperament of the band plays a huge role in their iron-willed aesthetic and subsequent appeal.

That savage and unyielding stance was on full display on the band’s recent split release with Antediluvian, and Witchrist’s storming Vitra EP (which featured Bölzer’s KzR on vocals). Ultimately, that’s as powerful an exit as we could have possibly hoped for. And while Witchrist have passed on, the band’s legacy of conjuring total death and destruction in cult death and black metal circles will hopefully be eternal.