Metal Made Musicians: German Metal Giants Heaven Shall Burn

Normally when you think of metal from Germany, you think of Rammstein or Scorpions and probably not much else. I could say a name like the fantastic group The Ocean, and you’d look at me sideways like I just asked you the square root of something. I could pull an old school name like Kreator out of the hat and you’d still maybe be a bit unsure, unless your metal awareness is not limited to new school deathcore (yes kids, there are more bands to metal than modern deathcore…try and keep up). What if I told you that one of the biggest and most important names in German metal was a band that was formed in the mid 90’s called Heaven Shall Burn? Does that ring a bell?

For many people in Europe, obvious by their following, Heaven Shall Burn has a large army of fans backing them. From festival to festival, tour to tour, Heaven Shall Burn has amassed a worldwide network of fans that have boosted them all the way to #2 on the German charts with their last studio album Veto (which also entered the US Heatseekers at #14, which is astounding for a band virtually unknown to the cliche Mayhemfest crowds). With rave reviews of past albums Deaf To Our Prayers, and the Iconoclast trilogy, Heaven Shall Burn have solidified themselves as one of the top metal bands on a global scale to infuse social and political injustice into their songs. It’s not just smoke and mirrors either, as the band fully stands by the fight against the corrupt and being the voice of the voiceless. If you know the band, you know it’s their calling card. And if you’re just now reading this and looking for a band that is concrete in their beliefs in the battle against the broken system that has it’s claws on the world, you just found your new favorite group.

We recently had a conversation with longtime drummer and original member Matthias Voigt, who though is currently on a break with touring with the group to attend to personal and family business, still is very much into helping the band out with public relations and being a voice for the group to underground media outlets such as our fantastic blog here. He informed us that soon he’ll work his way back to live situations, but was more than happy to represent the band in our interview. It was our pleasure to dive into the background and the inner workings of the group with him, to get insight into what we at Metal Made Fitness consider the top name in heavy German music.

MMF: The other day when piecing together ideas for questions for this interview, I went back and listened to “In Battle There Is No Law” and it’s cool to hear the general vibe and foundation for the music for Heaven Shall Burn has always been intact. But the early stuff definitely had more of a classic death metal feel. What were some of the early influences that helped create the Heaven Shall Burn sound?

Matthias: When we released “In Battle…“ our guitar player Maik and me had been playing together for more than 3 years already. So we basically started playing our instruments together and, especially in the beginning, there was no real songwriting, so to say. We really took our time until there was something that you could call “a song“.

We just played whatever sounded good in our ears and whatever we could master. So it’s been a wild mix of Metal, Hardcore and Punk since day one. But we all got a bit better and since Maik came more from a Death Metal background, his riffs and ideas definitely made it sounding that way. I guess we were influenced by Death Metal bands like Dismember or Bolt Thrower at that time, but we didn’t sound 100% their way.
In the mid-90ies we had many bands that really mixed hardcore and Metal in a way that we liked. I’m talking about Belgian bands like Liar, Congress or Sektor, but also American bands like All Out War, Abnegation or Earth Crisis. They all had an huge impact on us….Actually everything we listened to, found a way into our music. Since we’ve always been a band or a group of people that also took a stand on issues like animal and human rights or anti-fascism, we felt that the Hardcore-scene was more like a home to us, but musicwise the sky was the limit. Not all of those influences were audible, but we’ve been hungry to play something aggressive and we took whatever idea or influence we could get. There is only good and bad music anyway.

MMF: With the band growing up in Europe and seeing a different kind of political tension and revolt than what we see up close here in the States…did being around a lot of that stuff influence the band early on to help shape the band’s message and political stance?

Matthias: Yeah, we all grew up in East Germany and we witnessed how a political system broke down and was just being replaced by the next one. Basically everything changed within months. Many people had problems to adapt to this “new world“ and we could see that. Even for us, who had been between 10 and 14 years old around that time, it’s been disturbing. It’s been much worse for people who spent half of their lives in this East German system.

First there was excitement and happiness about the new “freedom“. Later on, people had to realize that it wouldn’t be that easy. I guess I’m not the right person to make an analysis, but the whole situation definitely made us aware of politics in a very early stage of our lives.

After the Wall broke down, there was an immense problem with neo-fascist movements, mainly in East Germany. I guess we had to chose sides and that made us aware of some issues. If you tried to stay away from the boneheads, you naturally got in touch with people that came from a Punk or Hardcore background and even the Metal scene used to be something more leftist or, at least, anti-racist and anti-fascist. So we definitely knew where we belong to and the deeper we got into all this, the more we got in touch with animal rights and human rights. It’s been a process and, in the end, it was clear to us that we wouldn’t waste our band to talk about gore or dragons and knights.

We simply wanted to talk about issues that’d been relevant to us.


(photo by Michael Grein)

MMF: On the last album, Veto, the band continued experimenting with ideas such as the covering the anthemic song from Blind Guardian, or the very melodic start to “Godiva”. It seems each record HSB tries out something new. How does the creative process work when you guys are writing together, bringing up song concepts or sounds?

Matthias: It has changed over the years. When we started to play together, we used to hang out almost every day or, at least 3 or 4 times a week. We would hang out, listen to music and play sometimes if we had an idea and wanted to try out. Then we took lots of time to arrange the songs. Now, they still try out ideas during practice, but the songwriting process itself is much more focused and only our guitar players, Maik and Alex, put the ideas all together and record a demo on the computer. Then the ideas grow and the new elements just appear during this process. Maik is also the one who comes up with all the lyrics and the concept. Basically he is the head of the creative process. I guess that also the best way to work for HSB.

So the band does not really jam that much. It’s a really focused work and it also became quite effective, I would say.

MMF: Actually speaking of the Bling Guardian song, I’ve noticed a cover song seems to make it’s way on to HSB albums. How is it determined which favorite song of the band gets covered?

Matthias: I guess we always have an open ear and sometimes we just think that a song would be interesting to cover. Then we tell each other like “One day we’ll do this…” Well, there are still so many songs that we like. I guess we won’t do all of them (laughs)

It always depends on the mood in the studio and also which kind of song would fit between the other songs. We thought it’s a good way to make the own stuff more interesting, something that breaks in and makes the difference. I guess a song like “Valhalla“ is a good example. When you play aggressive music, there is a risk that things are getting a bit boring, if everything goes into the “same direction“ for 40 or 45 minutes. It still is an aggressive song, but it sound different somehow.

We made the same experience with “Black Tears“. It can make the difference and let it breath a bit, so to say. I don’t know if we would like these albums less without these tracks, but we have the feeling that it’s better this way.

MMF: One of the reasons I wanted to interview the group was that I know the members are Vegan, as I am as well. Have the members always been vegan or was it an eventual choice to go stop supporting animal cruelty?

Matthias: I am vegan. Chris, who is playing drums now, is vegan and so are Maik and Alex. Marcus and Eric had been vegan for around 15 years too, but I guess they’re more like vegetarians now. It’s convenience, but I think it’s rare that they eat non-vegan stuff. They just aren’t that strict anymore and so they don’t call themselves “vegan“. At some point, all the members of HSB were vegan, but we didn’t start like that. That’s also been a process. I can only speak for myself. I’m vegan for 18 years now and stopped eating meat 21 years ago. In the beginning I was just curious, if I could survive as a vegetarian…(laughs). It was 1994 and most people thought I’d be dead within 2 months…(laughs). Just later I realized that I also don’t wanna support this whole industry. Today people are bombarding you with books about that and about the environmental damage that is done, due to the meat and dairy industry, but for me it just so simple.

Of course, I read some of the flyers or articles about animal rights, but I actually it’s just because some people need answers and I wanna be able to give them. I never needed that for myself. I always knew that I have the choice what I wanna eat. So I simply cut all animal products from my diet and I’ve never looked back.

MMF: I know some bands find it hard to be on the road and stick with a plant based diet. How do you guys on the road manage this?

Matthias: I think it’s very different in Europe, especially as a band with the size that HSB has here, there is no problem at all. You get good food at every venue you play. It just got better during the last years. I think you actually get better and more diverse food than back home…(laughs). I can’t say that much about smaller bands, but, especially in the Punk and Hardcore scene here, you get vegan food at many venues too. Animal rights have always been an issue within that scene and it shouldn’t be a problem.

It just keeps getting better and there is always a supermarket where you can stop and get something. If people make the choice to not live vegan, it’s convenience, nothing else. It’s never been as easy as it’s now. If you toured countries like Japan, it’s a different story, but there is always a way.

MMF: It’s been about 2 years since Veto. Is a new album in the works for HSB? Any news on that you can share?

Matthias: I think Maik and Alex already started to share some ideas with each other, but it’s still far from being recorded. This year won’t be that busy anyway, but they also all need time for their regular jobs and for their families. The last couple of years had been quite demanding. HSB is no band that tours very much, but it’s important to keep it fresh and to keep the enthusiasm about it. That’s why things are just happening, without a real schedule. Only if things become more concrete, they set themselves something like a deadline. But then things can happen very fast…(laughs)

MMF: Ok last one…I was fortunate to see you guys play Seattle a few years ago for the first time and it was a stellar show. It’s been a while since we’ve seen HSB tour the States. Is there a plan to come back here in the future for your fans here?

Matthias: True, it’s been a long time since 2008. Also Maik and me didn’t make it for this tour. Maik’s father just passed a few weeks before and I just came back from a 6-month stay in Brazil, where I did an internship. So, HSB needs to return…(laughs). Maik toured the US once in 2001 as a bass player for Caliban. They only played a couple of shows and then there was 9/11 and the rest of the tour got cancelled. It always seems to be bad timing for both of us.

I think there is no plan at the moment, but always some ideas for another tour. Until today, nothing really worked for us, but I’d say “Stay tuned!“. We always got a strong support from the States and we still get lots of messages all the time. I hope we’ll make it!

Find Heaven Shall Burn online at
http://www.heavenshallburn.com/
http://instagram.com/heavenshallburnofficial
http://www.youtube.com/heavenshallburntv
http://twitter.com/officialhsb
http://bit.ly/spotify_officialhsb

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