Teutonic metal powerhouses HEAVEN SHALL BURN are celebrating their twentieth year of existence with a new record Wanderer. They may never have quite hit the big time in the United Kingdom, but they are undoubtedly a force to be reckoned with and respected with plenty of fuel left in the tank. Approaching the release of Wanderer we spoke to founding guitarist Maik Weichert about where HEAVEN SHALL BURN are in 2016, where they’ve been, and where they’re going next.
It’s been three years since Veto was released. How have those years been for HEAVEN SHALL BURN?
Maik: Veto has been a great success. It’s been the record that was the most recognised worldwide for HEAVEN SHALL BURN, the most successful abroad and not only in Germany, and in Germany it went to #2 in the Billboard charts. Generally in Germany we are a big metal band and not so much in the rest of the world. People in the scene know who we are and know our name but we’re not the biggest in the UK for example, we’re not playing Brixton Academy or places like that.
I’ve always wanted to see HEAVEN SHALL BURN in Germany with a home crowd.
Maik: Oh absolutely, it’s a whole different level because we are able to do bigger shows and have bigger production with pyro and all that stuff.
Why do you think it is that you’ve not reached the same level of popularity abroad as you have in Germany?
Maik: In the rest of Europe we are bigger than in the UK but not as big as in Germany. We kind of refuse to follow business rules, back in the day when we had our breakthrough records like our third record Antigone we didn’t play three hundred shows a year like many American bands do doing one world tour after another. We very consciously chose to do our jobs and finish university degrees, and then to focus on Germany first before taking the rest of Europe. That sounds like another German conquering plan for Europe I know! But I imagine that’s part of it. Maybe there is also a language barrier, we have English lyrics but if we’re on stage in Germany and our singer starts to chat with the crowd it’s a lot easier than being a German band in England which may seem a bit artificial. It is improving for us in Britain though, it’s very slow and it’s a lot of hard work but we can feel it coming. It’s also hard touring in the UK, bands can be treated like shit in the club circuit so many bands want to tour in central Europe because everything is taken care of. We’ve also realised weirdly that we’re a lot more successful in Scotland than in England. It is really strange, maybe it’s because the Luftwaffe didn’t bomb Scotland that much! Of course London also has the biggest shows but I don’t consider that to be the typical England show because it’s the capital.
How do you think the band has developed in this period since Veto?
Maik: We didn’t really think we had to develop because we give our fans what they like. You can realise after ten seconds that it’s a HEAVEN SHALL BURN record so we didn’t try to shift in an artistic way. Obviously there will be some kinds of differences but nothing too conscious. I mean you’re the journalist, it’s your job to tell me how we’ve developed!
Moving onto the new album, looking at the cover it’s not the kind of imagery you would associate with a brutal, heavy metal band. How does it fit in with the theme of the record?
Maik: We like the contrast. It’s a very tranquil and beautiful image but there’s also this huge mountain that could be a monolithic statement. That’s something we want to capture, that this is the spirit of the band and there is no compromise with HEAVEN SHALL BURN. We wanted to focus on images of nature for the general concept so in the art booklet, but that huge statement of the mountain had to go on the front.
This is your first album with Christian Bass on drums. What has he brought to the band?
Maik: It didn’t really feel like having somebody new because we’ve worked with him for ten years, back in the days when our previous drummer would have something to do like university exams Christian would help us out. For a few years we had Dan Wilding from CARCASS but Christian is a very talented drummer. The great thing about him is that he doesn’t try to be at the forefront. He’s hands down the best musician in our band, so it’s nice that he doesn’t try to be at the front but instead he serves the band and the song. We were really happy to work with him in the studio this time.
You’re around twenty years into your career now and Wanderer is your eight album. Did you ever expect to make it this far?
Maik: It depends on what point in our career we were at. When we started out in the basement of course we never thought about reaching twenty years, but if we talk about the last ten years we always knew that we would be doing this until we die. Now we are aware that there is twenty more years of music for us. I don’t know that that will be as HEAVEN SHALL BURN, but we will always be making music.
How do you see yourselves ageing as a band?
Maik: Of course we want to keep that trademark sound. Your favourite dish that your grandmother makes, you don’t want her to change the recipe. Our fans want something new but not entirely, and we have our sound which is a valuable thing because many bands never find their own sound. That’s a big achievement as a band.
Do you feel you still have the same intensity you did in the past?
Maik: I think we have gotten more intense, in a way. I think our records became more emotional. The aggression is more aggressive and the melancholy is more melancholic, the calm moments got calmer and the loud moments got louder. When we were eighteen or nineteen there was just aggression and hate but now you also see the things in between so there are a lot more emotions when you age which leads to more intensity.
Speaking of emotional music, something people might be surprised to hear on the new album is a MY DYING BRIDE cover which is not the kind of band you would immediately associate with HEAVEN SHALL BURN. Why did you choose that band and that song?
Maik: MY DYING BRIDE has always been one of our favourite bands. When I started listening to metal in the early 90s you had all the fast, extreme, brutal bands and then MY DYING BRIDE was on another end of the metal scale along with bands like CATHEDRAL, ANATHEMA and KATATONIA, and we loved all these kinds of music. There are lots of corners to our musical universe, and MY DYING BRIDE stands for all the very melancholic emotions. The Cry of Mankind is just a masterpiece with an iconic guitar riff that I must play twice or thrice a week to warm up. We always wanted to cover it and if you listen to a few HEAVEN SHALL BURN songs from that past you can hear that in middle parts and end sections we have already tried to copy it. We never really managed it so we just decided to cover it. We were keen to not destroy the song because it has a very fragile and delicate spirit which is why we asked our friend Addi from SÓLSTAFIR to bring in this little extra that it needs. It would be stupid to just grunt your way through. We did it with Black Tears by EDGE OF SANITY and we wanted to bring this amazing band MY DYING BRIDE to a different audience who maybe don’t know them.
What are the bands that influence HEAVEN SHALL BURN these days?
Maik: From the very beginning it has always been BOLT THROWER, our big inspiration. They have a trademark sound without compromise, these simple riffs that you never forget once you hear them. Another has been EARTH CRISIS who were a big influence ideologically. Musically in the later years of the band it has also been early and mid-period IN FLAMES, DARK TRANQUILLITY and that Gothenburg sound paired with a little bit of Stockholm death metal.
Any newer bands grabbing you recently?
Maik: There’s a German death metal band called SULPHUR AEON and they are just amazing. They sound like a newborn MORBID ANGEL, that band just blew me away and also the other guys in the band.
HEAVEN SHALL BURN has always been described as something of a political band, and the last few years have obviously been difficult with the impact of extremism whether it be terrorist groups or figures like Donald Trump rising to prominence in the US. Has this political atmosphere fed into the new album?
Maik: These days you turn on the TV or read a newspaper or even on Facebook and there is a bombardment of ill thought out political opinions. People think they have an opinion just by sharing a link or whatever, and there is this constant influx of bad news and turmoil. With this album we wanted to encourage people to stop and think. Step back from the turmoil of this world and arrange your thoughts, and then come back and change something. Right now is not the moment to throw out your thoughts, now is the moment to regain your powers and think, so this record is like the calm before the storm. Don’t get me wrong, this is not a non-political record, but it’s focused around the idea of the right timing.
Do you think Germany especially has a problem with political extremism?
Maik: I am not really sure because I don’t know the statistics of terrorist attacks or whatever, but I think Germany in general has a problem with religion. It shouldn’t just be Islam that is protested but religion imposing control across the board. Less so the religions themselves but specific leaders and groups that try to twist and control people’s thoughts which feeds into this atmosphere of extremism. The people behind anti-Islamic protests though are right wing opportunists trying to take advantage of an unfortunate situation which is not my cup of tea.
Moving back to something more musical, now that you are where you are as a band, how would you like HEAVEN SHALL BURN to be viewed and perceived?
Maik: I would love to have people think of HEAVEN SHALL BURN as I think of BOLT THROWER. Very respected for an uncompromising attitude to music, business, shows, and that even people that don’t like the music have respect for the clear stance we take. I think a lot of people do and that makes us really proud.
Closing off, are they any plans to come back to the UK soon?
Maik: Not very soon but we are definitely working on something. Not this year but next year definitely.
Wanderer is to be released on September 16th through Century Media.
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