By Andrew Bansal
German extreme metal band Heaven Shall Burn have been around for 17 years now, and their recent efforts have been spent in the huge ‘Iconoclast’ trilogy, with the release of the Iconoclast I and III albums in 2008 and 2010 respectively, along with the Iconoclast II DVD in 2009. Over the years, the band’s overall musical style has had elements of melodic death metal, metalcore, thrash and straight-up death metal. It has allowed them the freedom to explore their songwriting more and more on each album. This is evident on the upcoming 7th studio album ‘Veto’ more than ever before, with a dynamic blend of melody and aggression. The album comes out on April 22nd in Europe and April 30th in North America via Century Media. A couple of days ago, I spoke to guitarist Maik Weichert to discuss the making of Veto. Check out the conversation below, along with some music off of the album.
You have the album release coming up soon, and I believe you’ll be playing three exclusive release shows in Europe. What can people expect from these shows and in what way will they be exclusive?
Well, they are exclusive because we are not doing a tour for the release of the album. We just decided to play three really big shows and play to something like 5000-6000 people there. It’s already sold out right now, so it’s a really big thing for us. So we just thought that would be cool, and we’ll do a full tour in November later. Of course, there will be more than five guys standing on stage wearing jeans and t-shirts, you know. We have a few nice surprises, may be some pyro stuff and really cool light set out there, and a cool set list as well. It will be a night to remember for people, something between an ordinary band and a Rammstein concert.
With the previous album, you finished the Iconoclast trilogy. After that and going into the writing mode for this new album, did you almost feel fresh and relieved that the trilogy was over?
Yeah! It sounds like a strange question but it was true. When you’re done with a trilogy like that, you’re a lot freer, specially to write the lyrics. You’re not limited to certain topics or way of writing. You can do what you want. So, I would agree with that. It’s actually a pretty interesting point of view. You are kind of relieved because there are no borders anymore that you have to be within. You can have a new concept, or not have one at all. There were certain approaches I always wanted to have with some songs but they didn’t fit with the previous concept.
Right, that’s exactly what I was thinking. You’re not limited to that topic for this album, and you seem to agree with that.
Oh yeah, I never really thought about it that way, but it’s true!
You’ve had quite a few guest musicians on this album. Were you concerned about having too many of them, or them impacting the music too much?
Yeah, we really tried to avoid having too many guests on albums in the past. Usually when we needed an extra guitar solo we just asked a friend of ours to come in and do that. But this time we had guests that really meant a lot to us. We don’t consider them as selling points or something like that. It’s more about fitting with the feel of the song, like the guys from Born From Pain, which is also a very political band and so it worked out to do something together. They’re really good friends. The guys from Accept, a really great traditional old German thrash metal band, it was a huge honor to play with them on a record. We always wanted to do that. Also, Hansi from Blind Guardian was like a childhood hero of mine. Having him on the record was something really special. I was so nervous to call him and ask, but he turned out to be a really cool, professional and polite guy. It was a lot of fun. It was a great experience having these guests on the record, and there will be more in future I guess.
Talking of the new album, the first thing that strikes me is the artwork. It just grabs attention straightaway. What was the reason or idea behind that image?
First of all, it’s like you usually spend may be $500 or $1000 on artwork, but this time we have an artwork that costs a few million pounds! Of course, we just licensed it (laughs) but it’s a lot higher quality art-wise. I just came across that picture and it grabbed my attention all of a sudden. I wanted to know the story behind it, and I immediately knew it would be cool for the album cover. Then I wrote the lyrics based on the story behind that picture. It was a very inspirational process.
The album is mixed by Tue Madsen, but I believe there’s also an alternative mix by Colin Richardson. Why did you actually go for that? Just for bonus CD material?
We never change a winning team, so we did the mix with Tue Madsen. He’s a really good friend of ours and he did great work in the past, so we did the mix with him of course, but we also wanted to try something new, not only be stuck to the old team. When we got that mail from Colin Richardson that he would be interested in mixing the record, it was like a huge honor. He’s such a famous guy and I grew up on Colin Richardson LPs such as Napalm Death, Bolt Thrower and all that stuff. So we definitely wanted to take that chance. But then there was huge snow chaos in England. Nothing was moving, no trains, no cars, and we couldn’t go there for the mixing. So Colin was in his studio and he mixed the record on his own. It came out to be a really cool mix and a lot of interesting ideas we would have never thought of. So we also decided to release that mix as well, because we think it’s interesting to hear two different philosophies on the two versions, and people who are into sound and into tweaking will have fun comparing the two mixes.
As you said, England was hit by snow and Colin ended up doing the mix himself. So when the snow happened, were you going to cancel it before he suggested to do it on his own?
Well, we weren’t worried because we already had a killer mix by Tue Madsen. So even if the Colin Richardson thing didn’t work out, we would have just one mix, like every other band (laughs). But we were really happy that Colin took so much authority and we love the result. We couldn’t decide which mix is better, and it shouldn’t be like a competition. It’s two different cool things and we are giving both to the people for no extra money, and they can decide.
Right, so just to clarify, the vinyl version of the album has the Tue Madsen mix?
No, the vinyl has the Colin Richardson mix. It also comes with the Tue Madsen CD, so there’s a free CD with the vinyl and you still get both mixes.
Coming to the music itself, I think there are some melodic sections in the album but it’s mostly a very heavy album. Would you agree with that?
I would say so. We’ve always been a very heavy band. At least I think so, but this time it’s a little more melodic. I would say it’s more emotional in both directions. The aggressive stuff is more aggressive, and the melodic, melancholic stuff is more emotional and everything. So yeah, it’s like more extreme in both ways I guess.
The lyrical themes for most of the songs are based on political leaders, revolutionaries and stuff like that. So, when you are expressing that through music, does that automatically bring out the aggression in you?
Yeah, it’s often that. If you think about a certain topic like that, there is just no way around writing an aggressive song for it, specially if you write about all the injustice in the world. That’s something which does make me really angry. May be I’m not growing up enough to not care about it, but I still do care, it makes me angry and I write angry music! Just take a song called ‘Combat’ from our previous record. It’s about child soldiers. Everybody who reads about that topic, you have to become aggressive. There is no way around it. It’s such a sad and fucked up issue, you just have to write aggressive music about it.
So, this album is done and ready to release. Do you think this is an album that stands on its own, or will there also be a ‘Veto II’ in the near future?
No, this is not a concept album. Every song has a different topic, and I didn’t feel like opening up a new concept trilogy or cycle, so this is an album that stands on its own, and I think it’s strong enough for that.