Touching base with the frontman ahead of the band's Girardi-illustrated incarnation.
Decades from the glory days of speed metal and yet it seems like the genre has yet to miss a step. If anything, the torch continues to burn bright due in part to a prominent new wave of bands like Portland's BEWITCHER, the likes who inch closer to the arrival of their sadistic next chapter, Cursed Be Thy Kingdom.
Set to make their Century Media label debut on April 16th, BEWITCHER arrive guns blazing to play a twisted metal that bridges the intensity of speed and thrash greats with the boldness of rock n' roll. In true BEWITCHER attention to detail, this riff-charged composition comes illustrated by way of Italy's Paolo Girardi who so gruesomely paints a scorched landscape amidst apocalyptic skies, setting the stage for the demon that is Cursed Be Thy Kingdom. Cursed simply delivers on all ends, making this one noteworthy outing as it stands. The energy that BEWITCHER deliver here is nothing short of electric and symbolizes the strength at which genre newcomers currently operate, a strength that promises an exciting future ahead.
We talk to frontman Matteo von Bewitcher to learn more about their visual rise throughout the underground ranks as it leads to their forthcoming beast of a record:
With ‘Cursed Be Thy Kingdom’, you not only make your Century Media label debut, but you further cement Bewitcher as one of metal’s strongest newcomers. For a band who’s remained consistent since your demo days, these are simply the fruits of your work ethic. This being your third full-length recording, where do you all see yourself having grown plenty since the ‘self-titled’ (2016)?
Matteo: We started off in the demo days being inspired by everything from the first wave wave of black metal to NWOBHM and trad metal, to punk, to straight up rock n’ roll. Not all of those influences came out super strongly at that time, but over the years, we’ve been able to gradually pay more attention to those lesser utilized elements to broaden the sound and show different sides of the band. I feel like the uniqueness of Bewitcher is starting to become more evident as we grow into our own sound and continue to evolve.
'Cursed' is truly a testament to that evolution. The Pacific Northwest, but Portland specifically, can very well be considered a regional hotspot for top tier metal with bands arising left and right. It must be something in the water. Would you say that this particular dynamic and the camaraderie between you all has had a significant impact on your efforts?
Matteo: Creatively speaking, we’ve always been a pretty isolated band, living in our own world and doing our own thing, but the diversity and wealth of bands in the Portland scene has been cool to see and I think it has encouraged us to seek our own path in terms of sound and vibe. It does force you to step up your game a bit when you have so many good bands around, for sure.
Continuing on that point, what are some of your favorite bands from the PNW?
Matteo: Shout out to the homies in Kommand, Solicitor, and R.I.P.!
Right on! Solicitor's 'Spectral Devastation' (2020) was a beast. Jumping into your visual journey, you began with Karmazid, who put a face to your speed metal with an intricately designed hooded being. This was followed by Mariusz Lewandowski’s satanic ritual, the likes of which radiates with vibrant blue hues and Baphomet at the core. For this time around, you went from one contemporary great to another with Paolo Girardi now taking it on. What inspired this transition? Perhaps one of his many previous works?
Matteo: Paolo has been on the short list of artists we’ve wanted to work with since the first record, but it just hasn’t quite come together until now. His stuff has always been very visually stimulating and conducive to our style. I always knew if we were able to tap him, he would do some excellent work for us, which is exactly what happened!
He definitely did! With Satan as your driving force, how significant do you feel the artistic element is to your releases? This of course extends to those atmospheric promo photos as well.
Matteo: The artistic element contributes a lot to what we do. I would say the driving force is more focused on magic, witchcraft, and its story throughout the ages with Satan being a single component of that overall narrative. But yeah, we’ve always incorporated stark visuals to go along with the music. Whether it’s cover art, band photos, etc., it all contributes to the overall vibe and energy. The visual aspect evolves and improves with the music too, so it’s cool to see how it has all come along over time.
Visually, what were you looking for when approaching Paolo for ‘Cursed’?
Matteo: He just brings this big, swirling, surrealist style with a little taste of the classical for good measure. I knew he could bring the right interpretation of the elements we were trying to combine, which is precisely what you see in the cover art.
It can be said that ‘Cursed Be Thy Kingdom’ is a play on words that reinterprets the obvious Christian kingdom, a characteristic known to your speed metal. The visual is quite fitting to the idea. Would you say that the cover serves as an extension of the record or is it synonymous, as if to experience in congruence?
Matteo: It was intended to be a direct representation of the main running themes on the record. You might say it was an *over*-extension of the record, haha. It’s pretty busy, but we wanted it to be that way, with lots of subtleties and detail. It is definitely one of those covers that you can sit and stare at while listening to the record and become more aware of what’s going on with the symbolism. So in a way, I guess it’s both!
For readers still contemplating on picking up a vinyl copy, let this be a sign for you to do so. Scorched fields, impaled bodies, apocalyptic skies, and so much more make up Paolo’s depiction of the world at the edge of oblivion. Was the illustration particularly guided to fit certain parameters or was it a result of Paolo’s artistic interpretation of the themes you presented?
Matteo: Again, it was kind of both, because I did provide him with quite a bit of direction. But in the end, his interpretation really captured things in a way that I couldn’t have come up with.
Was the idea for the cover established early on or were there elements that needed revision or further discussion?
Matteo: Um, yes, haha. Like most things with us, it started off as a very simple idea that grew and evolved into a more complex and fully realized version of the original. It took about a year and a half for that process to complete itself. These things do not happen quickly with us!
Given the reference images provided, it's obvious that Paolo excelled at bringing it all together. ‘Cursed’ is not just visually stunning for the sake of being visually stunning, but it’s rich in substance, incorporating a variety of symbols and nods to the band’s past. Where does the artwork fit amidst the overall conceptual approach you present with the record?
Matteo: I’d say it’s pretty important to the overall presentation. Before you hear a note, seeing that cover should tell you everything you need to know. And when you press play or drop the needle, you’re getting the soundtrack to that cover art, in a way. Maybe not everybody will look at it that way, but I like the symbiosis of it all.
If anyone understands the significance of visual significance, it’s Bewitcher, given your employment of top talent for each and every one of your records so far. Personally, Lewandowski’s painting for the ‘Under The Witching Cross’ was my introduction to your music some years ago. That said, was there ever an album, book, or even movie cover that has had the impact of making you pick it up without having prior knowledge of it?
Matteo: Of course! We grew up in the pre-YouTube era when you had to buy albums not knowing if they were any good or not (seriously, can you fucking imagine?!). So, a lot of times a cool cover was all you had to go on and you’d buy it just for that. That’s probably a big reason why we still place so much emphasis on artwork, because we know how powerful it can be and what a formative effect it can have in your life.
It's great to see that visual investment continue. Bewitcher is really the living embodiment of the past in present form, harnessing from that classic evil imagery of 80’s greats and sonically, Kreator’s early years come to mind. As you continue your rise in the metal ranks, how do you look to interpret speed metal’s golden era in your own lens?
Matteo: It’s not something I think about very much. We’re just doing what comes natural at this point and trying to make honest, sincere music. We operate under some pretty strict self-imposed boundaries, but within those boundaries is still quite a bit of territory to explore. We always want to be unpredictable, but it’s also important to hold on to the original values of the band, 'cus that's what got us here!
In closing, Matteo, it’s safe to say that ‘Cursed’ is a record that was meant for the live stage. Once live shows make their much anticipated return, how do you hope to translate the recording via the live setting, especially with fans eager to make their way to venues?
Matteo: The only way we know how...fast and loud! The pent-up energy inside people is just going to explode. I suppose it will be a bit like sex after a long dry spell: lots of excitement and anticipation, kind of messy, and over way too soon!
Cursed Be Thy Kingdom arrives on April 16th via Century Media. Order your copy HERE.