Interview: Maik Weichert of Heaven Shall Burn

Interview: Maik Weichert of Heaven Shall Burn

Interview: Maik Weichert of Heaven Shall Burn
Interviewer: Tim Finch

Heaven Shall Burn are one of Germany's biggest extreme metal bands right now. Huge in their home country and with an ever growing reputation in the UK. Just as covid-19 struck Europe, the band released their latest album, a double disc behemoth in 'Of Truth and Sacrifice'. I caught up with guitarist Maik for a chat to see how lock down is affecting him and his band mates.

The Razor’s Edge: How are you guys coping with coronavirus?

Maik: It's a pretty strange situation. We are in the state of Thuringia, Germany. It's pretty much a hill billy state, theres just woods and forest and stuff. Theres not so much happening here with the coronavirus, everything is pretty chilled. I mean there are no people on the streets here anyway so we don't see any difference. But being in a band and getting shows cancelled is a very bad situation. To go shopping and things like that its not a problem here, hospitals are still working well so it's pretty relaxed from that point of view.

The situation for our band is not so good, we just released the album, we took a two year voluntarily life break and now we've got a mandatory life break. We feel like a race horse being in the box waiting for the door to open and nothing happens. That was a pretty strange comparison for a vegan but you know what I mean...

The Razor’s Edge: It must be strange, coming off the back of an album release the next steps naturally would be to take that out on the road. Have you had to cancel any planned shows yet?

Maik: Yeah, we had a bunch of release shows we’ve cancelled. The day before yesterday Nova Rock, the biggest festival in Austria, has been cancelled. We were also supposed to play a really big festival in March, flights were booked via the United States and that hasn’t worked out. There are a few shows we’ve missed already and a lot more to come. I don’t believe in the festival summer this year.

The Razor’s Edge: Hopefully the virus hasn’t hit record sales/streams too much. But are they any other elements of band life the virus is effecting?

Maik: It’s pretty interesting because we are going through old hard discs and we’ve cut a few videos with all the video material we’ve got and given it to the fans. A few Facebook posts and stuff and they really appreciate that. That is something we defiantly would not have time for if we were in tour right now. So there is stuff to do. We can be happy it sells really well, record stores are not open but online shopping still works and stocks from the record company are open again so they can deliver the CD's. We've just hit number 1 in the German billboard charts. Pretty successful so far and that is at least a bit of an income for the band right now.

The Razor’s Edge: You took a little break after the last album/tour cycle. Was it good to recharge your batteries?

Maik: It felt really really good. But on the other hand, I didn't imagine it to be that hard. Sitting on your couch and your friends are texting from Wacken and Download festival, all the big festivals going on and you're at home sat on your couch and you're not part of it. That felt really strange, I totally did not think about that. On the other hand my wife was happy to drag me to every wedding and family party over the summer. Usually I'm at festivals so I am not with her for these occasions, so this time I had to and it was fun, I'll admit.

It was really good to recharge the batteries but it really felt like missing something, I have to be honest.

The Razor’s Edge: Was there anything away from music you focused on whilst away from the band?

Maik: We have ordinary family life you know, and writing the record of course, but that is not away from the music. But that is the reason we took the life break, just because we wanted to go to the studio and record an album without any pressure. We wanted to have a situation where we write and record an album and then talk about a release date.

It also really sucks if you are in the middle of recording and you have to pack up your gear go on tour or to a festival and then go back to the studio, and then get back in the mood again. It really sucks to be interrupted, so we wanted to focus on the recordings with no pressure, no deadlines and that felt really good. It released a lot of creative energy!

Interview: Maik Weichert of Heaven Shall Burn

The Razor’s Edge: The album itself, is a totally immersive double album. Was that always intended from the start?

Maik: Not from the very start. We didn't sit down in front of a white sheet of paper and brain storm "what do we need for a double album". It was more like when we started song writing we had no pressure and that released our creative energy. From the very beginning we could feel that there are so many visions and riffs and ideas for the records that there was an explosion of creativity. The pretty soon the idea of the album title came up 'Of Truth and Sacrifice' with those two strong words that have some kind of a duality. From that and having lots of material it's no so far to end up with a double album.

It was clear pretty soon that we may be doing a double album, of course we wanted to wait and see how the songs turn out, if there is variety enough. There is no point boring people for 100 minutes you know, if you do a record with twenty song where ten songs would have been enough, so there should be more to discover and more to entertain people than on an ordinary record. We really found there was a lot of experiments and stuff our fans didn't hear before so we decided to go for the double album.

The Razor’s Edge: Was there ever any worries trying to ensure all songs on the album are strong enough to make the final cut?

Maik: That doesn't happen because of the way we work when song writing. We always release everything we wrote. The reason for that is that if we write a song, we work on a song for as long as it needs, so we don't write a song for two weeks and then put it away. We will write one song for a month maybe, sometimes in end there will not be one riff in the song anymore that the song started with. It always really changes and we don't end finishing the song until we think it's good enough for the record. That's why we take so long writing the records but thats also why we don't produce any litter you know.

The Razor’s Edge: Unlike many bands, you’ve had a very stable line up over the years. That must help when it comes to writing new material?

Maik: Absolutely. We are a bunch of friends playing together in a band. God knows why but we are having a lot of success, especially in Germany. We don't know why, we consider ourselves a hobby band still. We are on that professional level, success wise, but the way we think and way we work is still like five guys meeting in the basement once a week and just doing music together. No matter if there are 50 or 5000 people at a show. We also decided not to go full professional, we all have day jobs, our singer is a nurse in an intensive care unit and thats because he loves his job. That balance between our real jobs and the music is really important.

We get a lot of energy from the everyday life, people just being on the road and just being in the music circus, they dry out and get depressed really easily and have their inspiration killed. We know tonnes of bands that play 300 shows a year and have to release a records then go on tour again. That is not what we want.

The Razor’s Edge: You mention you all have day jobs, does that ever effect plans that the band has?

Maik: That is the really strange thing, the bigger the band got the easier it was to bring the jobs and the band together. It's actually logical, we are the headliners on the tours now, so we tell the dates we want to play. We don't have to play ten festivals we play just one festival and get the same money. Actually the bigger the band is the easier it is to have a job or have a hobby. That's why Alice Cooper got so good on the golf course you know!

The Razor’s Edge: You’ve included a stunning rendition of Nuclear Assault’s ‘Critical Mass’ on the second disc. Why that song?

Maik: First of all we always love Nuclear Assault, their approach to thrash metal, having that more punky attitude to it and not the precision of Testament or Exodus. A little bit more punky, a little bit more sloppy but also more authentic in a way. Thats what we always loved about them and we wanted to show our younger fans almost 30 years also writing about environmental problems. I mean who sings about acid rain these days, I mean nobody.

It was a nice mixture of having a cover song that deals with the nature and the climate but also being a little retro, thats what we liked about it and it's a killer song!

Interview: Maik Weichert of Heaven Shall Burn

The Razor’s Edge: Alongside the album you released a 90 minute documentary. Where did the idea for this come from?

Maik: The basic idea was that we just wanted to show people what Heaven Shall Burn is about, where we come from, how we grew up, what we are doing, where we are heading, what we are thinking. The idea was to do some kind of "making of..." for the record like song writing, producing, mixing. But that was just some kind of frame for the story and within that frame you come to know about the people in the band. So after you watch the documentary you hopefully know how the record was made, what kind of people we are and why Heaven Shall Burn is the way we are. It's kind of unusual that we are such a political metal band and there are not so many out there and out political attitude and the lyrics are as important as the music. That's what we wanted to explain, we are just a bunch of friends that wanted to express their opinions and therefore founded the band.

The Razor’s Edge: What was it like having a camera crew following you around for the best part of a year?

Maik: Well it was ok. The director and the camera man we had worked with in the past and of course you need somebody that you completely trust. If it's a really good producer he makes you forget the camera after a month or so and thats what happened with us. It's totally interesting to see what he thinks is interesting in Heaven Shall Burn. Sometimes you say something to the camera or do something and you think that was so good it will be in the documentary and then it isn't and in the documentary is something you never thought about, but it reveals a lot more about your personality and the band. That's when it gets interesting working with the guys.

The Razor’s Edge: Did anything come out in the documentary that you weren't expecting?

Maik: Yeah there was lots of interesting stuff. I had never seen our singer working in the hospital, I never saw him in his medical clothing and he totally seemed like someone absolutely different to me. That's just one example.

The Razor’s Edge: For the artwork for 'Of Truth and Sacrifice' you commissioned Eliran Kantor who seems to be the most popular artist in heavy metal at the moment. Did you chose him or was it via the record company?

Maik: I chose him. The record label if we asked them they would suggest someone maybe. We were really happy that Eliran had the time to work with us. As you said he's one of the most in demand guys right now and I think he will easily as big and legendary as Dan Seagrave in a few years. He's such a talented guy.

The funniest thing was ten years ago we were supporting In Flames and Eliran came to see us at a show. After the show he wrote to us and offered his service to do some artwork. Twelves years later I answered his email and said "is the offer still there?" His answer was "of course" but not for the same price, you know [laughs]. So we already had a good contact with him, he's living in Berlin and when I told him about the concept of 'Of Truth and Sacrifice" I could literally see in his face the great ideas he had. He said we should have a naked child as a symbol for the naked truth and the mother dying as a symbol for the sacrifice. It was great working with him and he really brought across the title in the artwork very well.

The Razor’s Edge: ‘Of Truth And Sacrifice’ has been out a few weeks now. What has the fans reaction to it been like?

Maik: That is always something musicians are very nervous about. When feedback comes in, first reviews, first comments on the internet. Every musician that claims not to be nervous is a bloody liar. i totally believe that. It's a very sensitive time you know. As soon as the positive feedback comes your ego is growing and growing. Of course now I know we did a very good record, but after working on it for a year and mixing it for two months you just don't know if its worth anything. You really can't judge it and you don't have an objective view and that's why your so open for the feedback.

Thankfully we got a lot of positive feedback, even from journalists that don't really like Heaven Shall Burn and they consider it to be a very important record in our history.

The Razor’s Edge: So what next for Heaven Shall Burn? Once the lockdown is over where do you go next?

Maik: First thing we are going to do is play our release shows. Hopefully that will happen before festival dates as we've booked really small clubs, like 500 capacity so maybe these shows are available earlier than bigger shows. We are also preparing a European headliner tour for 2021.

The Razor’s Edge: Was that 2021 tour planned earlier ? Has it had to be delayed because of covid-19?

Maik: It was planned already, so thats why we only wanted to play festivals this year and then go out with the tour later.

As the conversation moved away from music we discussed his love of football, our respective teams and our hopes of things returning to normal in the coming months.

Heaven Shall Burn's 'Of Truth And Sacrifice' is out now via Century Media.

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