INTERVIEW: Mateo von Bewitcher of BEWITCHER

Hailing from Portland, Oregon, Bewitcher has been a force in the underground speed metal scene since forming in 2013. The blasphemous band released its self-titled debut in 2016, followed it with “Under the Witching Cross” three years later and had big touring plans in 2020 before the COVID-19 pandemic changed everything. The lack of live shows gave the band more time than ever to focus on crafting its next batch of songs, and in 2021, Bewitcher is set to claw its way into the ears and eyes of even more metalheads after landing a deal with famed Century Media Records for the release of its third—and strongest to date—record, “Cursed Be Thy Kingdom” (read Live Metal’s review). Just days before the album’s release, Live Metal’s Greg Maki caught up with guitarist/vocalist Mateo von Bewitcher to discuss the new record, the new record label, the band’s satanic themes and more. Get your horns up, and prepare yourself for “heavy metal at the speed of Satan.”

LIVE METAL: The new album from Bewitcher, “Cursed Be Thy Kingdom,” comes out this Friday, April 16. Do you have any special plans for release day?

MATEO VON BEWITCHER: Oh, I don’t know, probably just throw a few drinks down and kind of celebrate, because it’s the culmination of all this year’s worth of work that we’ve done. I don’t know if we’re gonna do any big to-do or a celebration or anything publicly. But yeah, we’ll celebrate our achievement here.

We’re more than a year into this pandemic now, so I’m sure that made the experience of making this album very different from any you’ve had in the past. How did that change things for you?

It just put roadblocks in the way of the normal routine of what we would have been doing. I would say the way it turned out, we had to adjust some things, but I think it actually worked out for the better. We had all these tours and all this stuff scheduled for the summertime when we were supposed to go into the studio, and with all of that gone, it kind of left us some time to really focus on the album and just be a little bit more attentive to that and not have to worry about playing shows constantly. So it ended up really working out for the better. I can’t say that it affected us negatively in the end.

So it’s obvious, listening to the album, that you’ve incorporated more traditional metal influences than in the past. Was that a calculated decision leading into it or just how it worked out?

A lot of the riffs that I was writing, probably a couple years before we actually got the songs together, just had that vibe. It was the stuff that we were listening to at the time, just kind of getting into the more classic, traditional metal and rock influences. That stuff’s always been in the sound, it just hasn’t been as pronounced. So we’re just kind of bringing that stuff out because it’s, like I said, kind of lesser utilized in the past. We’ve just kind of given it some light.

When you’re going into a mid-tempo type of speed, like you are on some of these songs, that leaves more space for your guitar leads and solos. Did you do anything differently to prepare for that?

Yeah, I would say the solos are a little bit more blues influenced and just a little bit more laid back in certain areas. It’s not about the shredding. It’s about the melody, and it’s about the musical composition, how it relates to the rest of the song and everything else. So I wanted the solos to really be part of the song. If a band were to cover one of these songs, what would the lead guitar player do? Would they be able to just shred over it and have it be the same thing, or would they have to kind of copy the solo because that’s part of the song? That’s kind of what I was going for.

This is the first album you’ve made with your current drummer (A. Hunter), so what did he bring to it?

I think he tightened up the rhythm section a lot, which is what we really needed going forward from the last album, because I think Bewitcher has always been equal parts sort of controlled chaos and rock attitude. We had the attitude, we had the vibe, but we were lacking a little bit of solidness. Things were a little bit too crazy sometimes. Aris has this really great rock sensibility, and he’s very controlled with his timing and everything. So he brings that to the table, and that helps tighten up the songs a lot more, I’d say.

Throughout all three albums, in the lyrics, there’s a lot of dark imagery, whether it’s satanic or witchcraft or whatever it might be. What inspired that? Is it just that it fits the music and the vibe you’re going for, or is there something more serious?

When we started the band, I always wanted to have an occult slant to the music, because to me, that was what went most hand in hand with heavy metal. All the bands I grew up listening to when I first got into it—it started off with “Highway to Hell” (AC/DC), and then I got into “Show No Mercy,” Slayer, and Mercyful Fate, and all these bands were doing really dark imagery, and I was very inspired by that. There’s a lot of bands that use it in a cliched way, and we try to bring a little bit of a different perspective to it. So yeah, it’s a little bit of a personal preference towards it and just wanting to try to approach it in our way, and it hopefully comes through that way.

At the same time, even though it is very dark, to me there’s a fun side to it, too. When you’re using “heavy metal at the speed of Satan” as a tagline, you can’t take that completely seriously.

Of course. The tongue-in-cheek thing has always kind of been there. That’s the Venom influence and, like you said, the sort of fun side of heavy metal. I think people make this misconception that because the lyrics are satanic or they’re about darker subjects that that somehow means it has to be evil and serious and it’s this thing that can’t be approached from a positive perspective. I think it can be both.

It’s clear that you guys put a lot of thought into the presentation of the band, visually—the album covers, videos, even the band photos. How important is that to you?

Artwork and all the visual stuff is equally important, I’d say, to the music or at least comparable. Music and rock ‘n’ roll has always been a visual presentation and an audio presentation. Bewitcher is always focused on getting both as dialed in as possible. The artwork speaks. It’s the first thing that people see when they are presented with the band. And so you get an idea of what the music might sound like, and you want them to work together. I think there’s equal importance on both ends.

One of the one of the things I’m really excited about the past few years about the big resurgence in vinyl is that it’s really putting more emphasis back on the art again, which I love.

Yeah, I think that’s something that we’re stoked on, too, because we didn’t even think we would ever do a vinyl. So when we did, it was like OK, cool, we’re gonna make it worth it, use it to its maximum ability.

I read an interview from around the time the previous album came out—I don’t remember if it was with you or not—but whoever it was, was saying that, at that time, he didn’t feel like the band was ready to make a jump to a bigger label and specifically mentioned Century Media. Obviously, now, that’s who’s putting out this album. So why was this the right time to make that leap?

Good question. I don’t know if there’s ever a perfect time, but I think this felt like it was time to jump because we just needed to do it. It’s something you just kind of feel inside, I guess. It’s an instinct thing. I think we did as much as we felt we could do at the level we were at. We wanted to be able to get bigger tours and that kind of thing, and it just felt like the right time.

So what has it been like to work with Century Media so far?

So far, so good. It’s a much bigger entity, so you’re dealing with multiple levels—marketing department, PR department, and you’re talking to all these different people, and there’s lots of emails coming in every day. So it’s a little bit different than working with the indies where it’s basically one guy you’re talking to. It’s a bigger business, so there’s more to do on the business end. Other than that, it’s basically the same daily routine.

I know they’ve got you doing a lot of interviews. Are you getting tired of talking about yourself yet?

(laughs) Yeah, it’s never the most comfortable thing for me because I’m not that big of a self-promoter, I guess. But yeah, it’s different. It’s not bad. It’s cool that people are interested in the band.

How long has it been now since you played your last show?

Last show was February of 2020, so it’s been over a year now.

You said it was good for the album, but you still must be itching to get back out there in front of a crowd, right?

Yeah, for sure. We’ve gotten to do a few things here and there, like video shoots, which isn’t the same. We did a little in-studio live thing that we’re going to be putting some stuff out for, for some new video content later on. But other than that, there really hasn’t been a lot of action on that end. So yeah, we’re chomping at the bit. It’s time to get out there again.

Some bands and venues seem to be optimistic that some kind of normalcy might return in the fall, because tours and festivals are being announced. Do you have anything in the works?

Yeah, we’re getting hit up by some places. It seems like people are generally starting to feel like maybe summertime is the time to start doing this again. So there’s talk, but there’s nothing set in stone yet.

Do you have a couple bands, something that would be your dream tour to be on?

Oh yeah, there’s a lot of bands we’d like to tour with. Man, we were set up last year to do so much stuff, and if it worked out, it would’ve been insane. We were talking about doing a West Coast tour with Midnight, which would’ve been awesome. We were talking with the guys in Exciter about doing a U.S. tour last summer. We had the thing with Night Demon and Satan last year that was supposed to happen that didn’t happen. So lots of good opportunities, just gotta get there.

Is there anything else you’d like to say?

Thanks for the opportunity, man. Like I said, it’s good that people are interested. Talking to people about the record is weird. You’re in the middle of it, and then you have to talk about it afterwards, and it’s hard to look back and remember what all happened. So it’s been kind of an interesting journey since that happened. So it’s cool, man. Appreciate the opportunity.

Buy “Cursed Be Thy Kingdom”
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