Austin Evans-Wigfield was a Communication and Media Studies student who passed away in March of 2023 at the age of 27. On a Thursday evening in January in the SJC resource centre, Communication and Media Studies faculty and students gathered with Austin’s family and loved ones to honour their memory and to celebrate the mark their art left behind.

Austin was a third year student in the Bachelor of Communication and Media Studies who is remembered as a dedicated student, a kind and thoughtful person, and as a gifted and talented musician. They wrote, performed, and recorded two albums under the stage name Death Metal Witch: 2017’s Seventh Sorceress and Don’t Die, Just Disappear, which was completed shortly before their death.

Austin’s mother, Carr Evans, shared how much it meant to her that there was a chance to share their music with people who had also known how special they were. Carr said Austin started making music around the age of 12, and the sound of guitar riffs emanating from Austin’s bedroom had been a constant ever since.

a photo of a grand piano with a gold plaque on its side

Austin’s name has been added to a plaque on the Heintzman grand piano in St Francois d’Assise church in Ottawa. The piano was once played by pianist and composer Sergei Rachmaninoff, who passed away on the same day as Austin 80 years prior.

Prof. Benjamin Woo, Program Head for Communication and Media Studies, also shared reflections on his relationship with Austin. Austin had worked with Ben as a Research Assistant, and he reflected on how Austin was a committed and diligent employee whose skills and knowledge helped make the lab run more efficiently, especially when it comes to tasks like transcribing interviews. However, what stands out most of all was Austin’s kindness.

Austin had offered Ben a copy of Don’t Die, Just Disappear, but the handover never quite worked out. COMS Associate Professor Irena Knezevic, who had taught Austin during their time as a student, lent her copy for the group to listen to, while Profs. Josh Greenberg and Vincent Andrisani lent stereo equipment and musical knowhow to ensure the album would be heard at its best.

Death Metal Witch’s second album pairs beautifully moving melodies with an impressive display of technical skill. Don’t Die, Just Disappear has seven tracks, which move from heavy sounds that evoke anger or rage through to a place of introspection and sorrow before reaching the resolution:

  1. Give me Pizza, or Give Me Death
  2. Fuuk Shit UP!
  3. Motor Mouth
  4. From the Depths of the Void
  5. Widow’s Eyes
  6. Exhale
  7. Trial by Fire

As the group listened to Austin’s music, it was clear the emotional impact it had on everyone in attendance. What stood out most clearly was Austin’s ability to take their many different musical skills – Austin played all the instruments on every song, in addition to writing, mixing, and producing the whole album – with a clear emotional vision and tone.

By the end of the listening party, everyone in the room was deeply moved – many to the point of tears. Reflections were shared on the technical beauty of Austin’s music, as well as surprise at how, despite metal as a genre having a reputation for harshness, Don’t Die, Just Disappear demonstrated a gentle presence. One listener called it “a casual rhapsody,” while another reflected that “it must have been difficult to be that brilliant.”

Carr thanked the group for listening with her, and said that while it was hard to listen collectively, she knew that getting people together to share music and experiences was what Austin wanted. For those in attendance that evening, Don’t Die, Just Disappear was a reminder of the importance of sharing art and closeness with the ones you care about.

Tuesday, April 9, 2024 in , , ,
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