Witch Taint’s Dave Hill Ponders The Bonkers Banality Of Metal

Dave Hill is probably a lot like us– hunkering down, riding out the pandemic, and listening to as much heavy metal as humanly possible. Then again, he also happens to be way more important than any of us. “As I sit here in track pants, an old hockey jersey, and a winter hat with a ball on top, with my sweet dog Lucifuge curled up next to me,” he says from an undisclosed location, “I am definitely still the King of Black Metal and always will be.”

A battle-scarred vet of both comedy and rock music, with appearances on sitcoms including Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt as well as with records from his bands like Sons Of Elvis and Valley Lodge, Hill defends his provocative proclamation with the insular wisdom of a showman like P.T. Barnum, Andy Kaufman, or that guy who revealed the secrets behind all the best magic tricks on TV. “If there’s one thing I’ve learned in this life, once you say you are something, it becomes true on some level,” he explains.

From this place of fake-it-til-you-make-it satanic sorcery spawns Witch Taint, Hill’s humor-laden heavy metal project and its debut Sons Of Midwestern Darkness (out Friday on Tee Pee Records). With roots in an absurd series of email exchanges between him (under the pseudonymous guise of Gary, Indiana hesher Lance the King of Black Metal and About 500 Other Things Most People Can’t Handle) and the proprietor of Oslo-based Planet Satan Revolution, the resulting Black Metal Dialogues turned into a two-man stage show and, eventually, a band with notable fans including Phil Anselmo, Autopsy frontman Chris Reifert, and Darkthrone’s own Fenriz. Naturally, we had to hear more about how this all came to pass.

The Pit: When did black metal first cross your radar as a listener? Were there particular bands or records that you recall having a particular impression?

Dave Hill: I’ve been a metal fan my whole life, and knew about the “first wave of black metal” bands as a kid in the ‘80s–Venom, Celtic Frost, and all that. I remember seeing Venom albums at my local record store and thinking they were terrifying, especially being a Catholic schoolboy. It’s nice, all these years later, that Mykus from Venom plays a couple guest guitar solos on the Witch Taint album. Sometimes life goes exactly according to plan.

But I didn’t learn about “second wave of black metal” bands from Scandinavia until the early 2000s. I really dug the intensity and commitment the bands in general seemed to have. In any art form, I love when someone pushes things as far as they can regardless of whether I actually end up enjoying the final product myself. Also, when people take something really, really seriously, that’s always super entertaining to me. So the second wave of black metal instantly ticked a lot of boxes for me. The fact that Euronymous originally wanted customers to carry torches around Helvete while they were shopping is the greatest thing that ever almost happened.

Back in the mid-90s, Sons Of Elvis were signed to Priority, which effectively made you labelmates Armored Saint and GWAR, not to mention Mercyful Fate and King Diamond himself! Did you ever interact with these artists at that time?

I wish. The only groups from the label we met were a few hip-hop acts and a couple reggae artists at a party once, which was pretty cool but not as cool as meeting King Diamond. I met hockey legend Mark Messier at that same party, though, which was also cool since I’m a huge hockey fan. We really wanted to meet Ice Cube, but it didn’t happen, which was probably for the best as we were really young and would have struggled to hold ourselves together amidst his awesome Ice Cubeness, especially me. I’ve since met members of Armored Saint and GWAR and narrowly missed meeting King Diamond himself once, just by seconds, in fact, so I’ve kind of been making up for lost time as best I can since then. Also, totally unrelated to the question, I met Barry White once before he died, so I don’t have many complaints in life when it gets down to it.

At what point did you realize that the Black Metal Dialogues would translate into a great stage show?

When I originally sent those emails to the Norwegian Black Metal record label, I was just doing it to entertain myself before I went to bed. People would always tell me I should read the emails on stage, but I was too busy with other things and wasn’t even sure it would work anyway. But then in 2017 my friend Trish Nelson offered to help and booked a date for me and my friend Phil Costello, who plays Matthias and is my partner in the band, to read them on stage at Saint Vitus in Brooklyn. People loved it so we did more. Our third show was at SXSW. We weren’t expecting many people to come but there was a line down the block, a sold-out show. We honestly thought they must have shown up early to see whatever was on after us. I flew home the next morning with most of my corpse paint still on and it was exhilarating.

How did the Black Metal Dialogues then transition into actually making music together?

For years, there was just the first Witch Taint demo for “Necrodreamraper” that I recorded with my buddy John Kimbrough to send to Planet Satan Revolution Records when the original emails were going on. It’s the longest 3 minutes and 33 seconds of your life. But once Phil and I started doing the live show, we gradually began adding more music. By the time we did the Wacken festival in 2018, we noticed how confused at least half the crowd was when they saw two guys in corpse paint just reading from their laptops in a field in Germany. But whenever we’d play the three or four Witch Taint songs we had added to the show by then, the place would go nuts. We did shows every day at Wacken and I think after the second day, Phil/Matthias and I decided we would turn Witch Taint into an actual band and make an album and all that.

People may know your music as having more of a rock context than a heavy metal one. What is it about Witch Taint that you weren’t able to do in your other musical projects?

It never made sense to me to have my own metal band since all of my favorite metal bands already had it covered as far as I was concerned. For a long time, I didn’t think I had anything to add to all the sweet metal that was already out there in the world. I actually struggled for a while to even figure out what the music would sound like since, at least according to how I described the completely nonexistent music in the original emails anyway, it’s supposed to be the most extreme and ultimately unlistenable music of all-time- even I wasn’t supposed to be able to handle it. But then, in doing the live show, we sort of figured it out. After Phil and I wrote “Are You Ready (to Black Metal)?,” the rest of the songs just fell into place.

How did you approach the songwriting side of tracks like “Are You Ready (To Black Metal)?” and “Viking Heaven” to maintain that precarious balance of music and comedy?

We didn’t want to do it unless it was satisfying in both ways. Also, with regard to metal specifically, we absolutely love it and aren’t making fun of it or doing it in an ironic way or anything, so we just tried to have fun and do a good job writing songs that celebrate heavy music while being funny at the same time.

With the interludes like “Grimness Of Noodles,” you’ve tapped into the banality of metalhead life. Do you identify with these people who express this extreme devotion to extremity but still have to live workaday lives?

Witch Taint is totally coming from a place of love and affection for metalheads and never just making fun of metal. And I think with metal or anything that tends to have a fantasy element to it at times, obviously no one can fully avoid the banality of life, except for maybe Ronnie James Dio when he was alive. Even Danzig has to buy groceries from time to time- it’s a proven fact. Personally, if I were Danzig, I’d probably try and have someone else do it for me, but I think it’s a testament to the awesomeness of Danzig that he just goes, “Shit, we’re out of cat litter. I’ll be back in twenty minutes.” Let’s see Celine Dion try that shit.

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Words by Gary Suarez