Black Witchery: Vaz
by Niklas Göransson
In his inaugural interview, Black Witchery drummer Vaz offers a disturbingly honest glimpse into a world consumed by personal upheaval.
This is an excerpt from the full article, which is twice as long and published in Bardo Methodology #8. The same issue also includes conversations with DESTRÖYER 666/BESTIAL WARLUST, AKHLYS, LEVIATHAN/LURKER OF CHALICE, CULTES DES GHOULES, THUNDERBOLT, BLACKDEATH, MISÞYRMING, NORDVIS/ARMAGEDDA, MORTUUS, DÖDFÖDD/REVERORUM IB MALACHT, and OFERMOD.
– I haven’t really paid much attention to anything lately. Also, my old phone broke a while back; I just went, ‘Fuck this thing!’, took a hammer and literally smashed it to pieces. It was ridiculous. Now, I don’t wanna come off as a fucking conspiracy freak here – even though I probably am one – but multiple people witnessed some seriously shady shit going down. Like, I’d be reading a text message when the screen started moving however it wanted, as if someone was scrolling through my phone. Oh man, I’d rather not relive any of those nightmares. I mean, it’s not that big of a deal, but one day I saw red and had a shake-the-baby moment. And I killed that baby, so the baby is dead. So here I stand today, talking to you through my new baby.
One evening in early 2022 – about six months after my latest attempt – I texted Vaz on a whim and asked if he’d be available for a phone call at some point in the foreseeable future. Much to my surprise, he wrote back instantly and suggested we proceed at once.
– You know, it’s almost as if something was preventing us from speaking. It’s been what… nearly two years now? I wanted to do the interview back when we first started talking about it, but I was so fucking scatterbrained and all over the place. I just couldn’t lock it in. It was constantly like, ‘Alright, I’m getting to it, I’m getting to it.’ And then I just never got to it. My living situation in Florida was a bit fucked up, but I’ve just moved to El Paso, Texas. I figured I needed a change of pace, a change of scenery, and all that good stuff. I should also mention that I’m kinda in rehab at the moment, so you’ll have to excuse me if I blank out on occasion.
Are you rehabbing physical injury or chemical dependency?
– A bit of this, a bit of that. Long story, but the whole thing started with a work accident back in 2009. I don’t even remember how I got hurt, but I wasn’t able to reach my left foot to tie my shoe. I was like, ‘Fuck this, I’m going to the hospital.’ They wrote me a referral for ‘pain management’, so I went to the drugstore and gave the guy the note. He started laughing at me. ‘What are you laughing at?’ And he says, ‘You have to go to a pain management centre.’ ‘Oh, I thought that was kind of fucking weird.’ I went to a clinic on South Orange Avenue and the dumb doctor didn’t say shit to me; he just gave me a prescription for OxyContin, no questions asked. And that sent me straight into the shuffle.
OxyContin is a semi-synthetic opioid medication which has attained widespread notoriety in recent years. It is now clear that the drug’s creators, Purdue Pharma – owned and largely operated by the Sackler family, one of America’s wealthiest dynasties – falsified studies, lied about side effects, and conspired with medical professionals to aggressively prescribe OxyContin to patients. From when they launched the drug in 1995 until 2017, Purdue Pharma is estimated to have made somewhere in the range of thirty-five billion dollars. Following astronomical fines, numerous lawsuits, and multiple criminal charges, the company filed for bankruptcy in September 2019. One year later, they reached a settlement with US, prosecutors, in which they admitted to having ‘knowingly and intentionally conspired and agreed with others to aid and abet’ doctors who dispensed the medication ‘without a legitimate medical purpose’. Florida had laws which allowed prescribing heavy-duty painkillers to patients suffering from only moderate pain, resulting in the state becoming the OxyContin epicentre.
– So, finally getting the treatment I needed turned out to be the worst idea imaginable because it got me hooked on drugs that were impossible to quit. In the summer of 2011, we were in Germany playing a show when I got the call: ‘Your doctor is in jail.’ ‘Excuse me?’ ‘Yeah. This guy just wrote more prescriptions in three months than all the doctors in California combined.’ And I was like, ‘What the fuck, are you serious? What am I going to do?’ Because I thought taking this medication had fixed my back – not realising I’d developed a pretty bad habit. My dose was at 330 milligrams at any given moment. And if you ask anyone who’s done any kind of hard-core opiates, that’s a high fucking dose. I mean, one tablet is thirty milligrams and I’d crunch down eleven of those fuckers and it still wasn’t enough.
An August 2012 article in The Orlando Sentinel reports that Pain Relief Orlando on South Orange Avenue was described by authorities as among the worst ‘pill mills’ in the state. An undercover drug agent posing as a patient with back problems received the same treatment as Vaz: the owner, Dr Riyaz Jummani, gave the cop a prescription for 120 pills without so much as examining the alleged injury. Following the arrest of Dr Jummani and many of his colleagues, Florida passed legislation that regulates oxycodone – the active ingredient in OxyContin – and similar controlled substances. Patients who’d become addicted could no longer legally obtain the drug and had to resort to the black market.
– Yeah man, it’s been a crazy ride ever since. I’m off my meds now and believe me, it fucking hurts. I’ll hear people go, ‘Oh, my back aches, my feet are sore’; it’s like, ‘Fucker, make sure you’re in real agony before you complain. If you can stand up and watch a show, be happy.’ Because I can’t and it fucking sucks. I just did this whole festival here in Texas from the backstage. I could listen to the bands playing without stepping out into the audience. Such is life now: I can’t sit down for too long, can’t stand up for too long. It’s irritably uncomfortable. So, to answer your question, that’s what I’m rehabbing right now.
– Well, I’m on a bunch of ecstasy at the moment, so right now I’m okay. What? Yep, I’d taken a few tabs just before you texted me. But I’m pleased to say that I’ve been out here without opiates for two weeks now and have yet to go into acute withdrawal. So, to all you straight-edgers out there: focus on that and ignore the rest. Because it does sound slightly hypocritical, being in rehab but on ecstasy – haha! I don’t actually like the way it makes me feel; I just dig the temporary respite from debilitating pain. I’ve also been on a medication called Subutex, which is almost the same thing as oxy but hits a different receptor. I’m off that as well now, so I’m kinda clawing at the walls a little bit. But this interview and the fucking X are saving me. Glad we finally got it done.
It should be noted that attempting to interview Impurath for the BLACK WITCHERY feature in Bardo Methodology #7 was a similarly wild ride. Due to a variety of sudden issues coming up mid-conversation, we had to do it in increments over a few weeks. At one point, I received an incoming video call from Impurath, following which he live-streamed himself roughing someone up and then threatening the poor bastard with an enormous Bowie knife. I’m told the two are rather alike.
– It’s absolutely fucking crazy-weird like that. I mean – Impurath and I have the same first name. His mom is pretty much like my mom, and we have the same dad. I mean, our dads are almost the same. We both have younger sisters with the same name. Both of us relocated to Florida from up north, and so on and on. As a matter of fact, this is how far it goes: years ago, I noticed Impurath entering a four-digit code to unlock his phone and realised that we’d set the same passcodes without knowing it. That’s when you know you’re on the same fucking channel! It was the same with Tregenda; man, he was also one of my best friends.
Tregenda joined BLACK WITCHERY in 1997 and remained the band’s guitarist for seventeen years. In 2013, he moved back home to Missouri.
– That was fucked because we had a show to play. We got wind that he was quitting the band and were like,’ Holy shit! What the fuck?’ I believe I was the last one to see him. I’d lent him a washer and dryer so once I heard he was dipping town, I thought, ‘Well, I’ll be damned if I’m leaving it at the house.’ I went over there and saw the moving truck outside, and that’s when I met his mom and sister for the first time. It was fucked up – he was in rough shape, man. I’ve never seen him like that, and we’d done a lot of partying together. I don’t know what exactly he was going through. I don’t even wanna disclose the root cause of this problem. Let’s just say it’s usually the same thing. And as I’m sure you know, it’s always a fucking girl.
Did you have much contact after he moved?
– We were still friends but… it’s weird, because him and I never had any problems – period. But due to the sourness between his woman and me, I didn’t talk to him as much. Dude, that was a crazy time in general. I kept flying back and forth to my girlfriend in Finland, just trying to go about being me in the moment and striving to do better. There were many issues with a lot of things, as far as I can remember. Yeah. That’s about all I could say at the present moment. You know, I should probably have another bean, but… um, that’s what I’m thinking anyway.
– Bean, an ecstasy tablet. Ah, fuck it; let me grab one of these bad boys here… oh, Transformers!
The rattling of a pill box is soon followed by a crunching sound.
– Oh my God, these things are nasty, man. But do you know what’s really bad? Okay. Never mind, I just found my water. Now it’s not so bad. Phew, that was hideous for a second.
Can’t you just swallow the pill and wait an extra ten minutes for it to dissolve in your stomach?
– Well, let me tell you, there was a time when I would’ve just crushed it up and snorted the powder. And man is that brutal! I used to snort all kinds of shit; my nose has been through serious combat, as has the rest of me. Oof, I certainly don’t miss those days. I’m far more sensible today. I even quit drinking. It’s the Subutex, man, you’re not supposed to drink on that stuff. And I can see why, because as soon as you do you feel like ass. I did not enjoy that one bit. So now I can’t even take a sip of a beer – it fucked me up for a bit there. And I’m saying that seconds after chewing an ecstasy tablet, haha! I know, fuck my life. But I gotta say, I just felt a tingle all the way down my spine, so that’s good. Next question, please.
The void Tregenda left behind was filled by A.X. of NYOGTHAEBLISZ and HELLVETRON. BLACK WITCHERY kept performing live and writing new material, culminating in the 2015 split with REVENGE: “Holocaustic Death March to Humanity’s Doom”. Then, in February the following year, Tregenda – who since moving back to Missouri had vastly improved his health and started a business – perished in a car accident.
– What’s weird is that I almost died of an overdose the same night. Yeah, no shit. I was a bit of mess, fucking shooting up anything in sight. I was burning it really hard, man. So, I woke up and saw this text message about Tregenda. I sat up and thought to myself, ‘This is fucked up!’ Even worse, I didn’t have time to worry about it because I was flying out to Finland that very morning. I had to pack and go catch a sixteen-hour flight, but I couldn’t stop staring at that message. Like, ‘This can’t be real.’ Then Tregenda’s former wife, Christina, called me – I was still friends with her, we were always good. She told me what happened. And then, yeah… sure as shit, it was real, man. It was real. As fucking real as can be: my brother is dead. Just the details of what happened… being stuck there for as long as he was.
Tregenda was driving home from work when he ended up in a head-on collision with another vehicle. He survived the impact but was trapped in the wreckage, gravely injured. Tregenda remained alive for more than an hour after the crash, but it was too late once paramedics arrived.
– Enduring all that, only to pass away. I mean, that’s fucked. Especially after going home, cleaning yourself up, and pursuing things you should’ve been doing from the start. He did GRANDIOSE MALICE, which was really fucking cool. You know, hearing it for the first time, I’m thinking, ‘How come he never busted out any of this when I was around? Like, what the actual fuck?’ I literally had that thought. Now, bear in mind that I’d already lost a real brother back in ’93; that’s what got me down to Florida. I gotta say, it’s funny how tragedy can set things in motion. Because if not for my brother dying – as horrible as that sounds – there would be no BLACK WITCHERY and this interview would not be happening. All I know is that these things happen for a reason. I think about Tregenda all the time. Not a day goes by without me saying something that relates to the time of his being. He was just such a fucking metal giant.
The following year, Tregenda’s passing was commemorated in a manner most faithful to the spirit of BLACK WITCHERY. Ryan Förster from DEATH WORSHIP and BLASPHEMY – previously of CONQUEROR, with whom BLACK WITCHERY released a split in 1999 – joined his old friends on stage to perform a tribute set. Before we get to that, it might be pertinent to note that the tour manager had prior experience with Vaz.
– I played her festival, Chaos Descends, with BLASPHEMY when these three fucking retards decided to… you know, I’m pretty sure it was a deliberate attempt to get me to act out. The three stooges thought it would be a good idea to get a little rowdy with me, so I had to sit them the fuck down. If I recall correctly, one of them had his leg broken and that caused a bit of a stir. So, just before this Oberhausen show, the tour manager pulls me aside and says, ‘You’re gonna be a good boy tonight, aren’t you? You’re not getting into any fights.’ I’m like, ‘What are you talking about, lady? I’m way calmer than you.’ I don’t start anything; everyone brings shit to me. I just execute. It’s simple: put a steak in front of me and I will eat it.
Fortunately, there was footage of the incident which Vaz could use to argue his defence. The video shows a belligerent gentleman in the audience trying to grab Ryan Förster’s guitar. Förster takes a step back, but the fool attempts to climb on stage. After being booted off twice, he grows even more agitated and comes back for more.
– I caught wind of this and that’s when you can see me starting to hit the ride cymbal, facing Ryan’s direction, trying to figure out what was going on. I zeroed in, identified the disturbance, and then went into problem-solving mode. You know, I’m not a big fan of people who wanna fucking mangle your shit while you’re paying tribute to your dead guitarist. Am I being unreasonable? I was like, ‘Okay, this guy is getting taken the fuck out.’ And I guarantee you: I nailed him right between the eyes with my drumstick. I pride myself on being a good shot. Then I thought, ‘You know what? Fuck it, I’m going in.’ I went to collect my drumstick, essentially. But I wasn’t really going after my drumstick; I was going to beat this motherfucker’s ass.
Making his way across the stage, Vaz tripped over the cymbals. Before getting back up, he grabbed the fallen hi-hat stand and hurled it at the assailant.
– I was like, ‘Here, you’re gonna need this for defence.’ And if you watch the video, you’ll see him throwing it back up at me as I jump off the stage. The moment I got down there, some enormous fucker came from behind and put me in a chokehold. Like, ‘Dude, it’s okay – he’s gone.’ But it got a bit chaotic because A.X. jumped in after me and came out swinging. He didn’t know what was going on; he just saw me in a situation and started dropping people. That’s the kind of soldier we like to recruit! So yeah, the bottom line is that I had to take care of business. It’s quite simple: don’t fuck with motherfuckers while they’re playing. Well, go ahead and try that with us and see what happens.
This was an excerpt from the full article, which is twice as long and published in Bardo Methodology #8. The same issue also includes conversations with DESTRÖYER 666/BESTIAL WARLUST, AKHLYS, LEVIATHAN/LURKER OF CHALICE, CULTES DES GHOULES, THUNDERBOLT, BLACKDEATH, MISÞYRMING, NORDVIS/ARMAGEDDA, MORTUUS, DÖDFÖDD/REVERORUM IB MALACHT, and OFERMOD.