Band – Heaven Shall Burn
Album – Of Truth and Sacrifice
Country of Origin – Germany
Genre – Melodic Death Metal/Metalcore
Release Date – March 20, 2020
Label – Century Media
Author – Hayduke X
Let me start with a disclosure. I’m way behind the curve here. This band has been around since 1997, really 1996 if you include an earlier incarnation under a different name. This is their ninth full length album, not to mention various EPs, singles, and splits. And yet, this is my introduction to them. Where have I been? You’d think that I’d be all about Heaven Shall Burn given their political stances on the environment, anti-racism, anti-fascism, even their being fellow straightedgers (is that a word?). I have a few reasons I may have missed them, but most importantly, they started up at a time when I wasn’t listening to anything new. By 2000, the time of their first full length, I was very much in the ‘start a family and career’ mode.
Of Truth and Sacrifice is an earnest album. The band definitely has something to say and wants you to hear it. There is an emotional weight to every riff, every yell, every lyric, every transition. The album feels important. Musically, the band works from a basic of melodic death metal, but it doesn’t stop there. Everything from violins to electronic influences to blast beats appears on the album. This can make the album very hard to pin down. For example, as I always do, I’m listening to the album as I write this. I just finished Terminate the Unconcern, a fairly straightforward melodeath banger with some metalcore influence. Up next is The Ashes of My Enemies, a brief two minute instrumental interlude of emotional violins. That ends disc one.
Disc two starts with the heavy, but emotional Children of a Lesser God, a prime example of melodeath excellence. Immediately after, we get La Résistance, a straight up industrial banger that wouldn’t sound out of place on a KMFDM album, complete with a shout along chorus and a hard danceable beat. Like waves on the ocean, the album rises, falls, and churns through so many different influences, it’s hard to weave it all into words. You’ll just have to listen.
There are some common threads throughout the album, regardless of which genres they are dipping their toes into. The album is heavy! Sometimes that’s in a musical sense, sometimes in an emotional sense, but mostly it’s heavy in both senses. The quality is excellent throughout. They handle all of the variation with aplomb. Their message is spot on, song after song after song. One thing is for certain, Of Truth and Sacrifice might be my introduction to the band, but it won’t be my stopping point.
Stay tuned below the video for an interview with Maik Weichert.
Hayduke X: Thanks so much for taking some time today to speak with me. Let’s start by having you introduce yourself and your role in the band.
Maik Weichert: I’m Maik. I play guitar and write the lyrics for Heaven Shall Burn from Germany.
HX: Congratulations. I think Of Truth and Sacrifice is your ninth full length album – really a double length – if I counted correctly. Is that right?
MK: Yeah. It’s the first double length and the ninth album.
HX: You’re one of the founding members, correct?
MK: I am. Yes, that’s correct.
HX: Back in ‘97, did you foresee having a musical career that was going to go over two decades long?
MK: No, not at all. Back in those days, I thought about maybe next week. When you’re young, you think you know how the world works and you don’t think in long term. So, of course not. I mean, I never had dreams to become a rock star or a professional musician or something like that. We don’t consider ourselves professionals today. That was never really a question we were thinking about.
HX: You have a whole other career as well, don’t you?
MK: I do. I have a Ph. D. in law. I study cultural history as well. All the guys in the band have jobs as well. That is something very important for us. I mean, the band takes most of the time. It’s usually doing just half day jobs or something like that, but it’s very important to have that balance in your life. Only just being a part of the rock and roll circus is for stupid people, I think.
HX: I’m pretty new to the band somehow, even though you’ve been around so long. Can you take me way back to the beginning and give me a brief historical sketch of the band?
MK: The most important thing to know is that we came together not really because we wanted to play music. We were actually a bunch of kids that found ourselves together because of the same political views. Being very involved in environmental organizations and stuff like that. We were looking for a means to express our opinions and our points of view. When I was in school, I realized that when I have a guitar in my hand, so many people are listening. If you write an article for the school newspaper, nobody cares. I found out pretty early how effective it is to spread your opinion through the music. That is still the point of view we have in Heaven Shall Burn today. We don’t think we are creating something so artistic music-wise that we have to bring it to the people. For us, I always use the picture that, for us, the music is like the missile, and the lyrics are the warhead we want to transport. That is pretty much what we think of Heaven Shall Burn, in the past and today.
HX: I actually wanted to get into that a little later in the interview, but since we’re talking about it, let’s talk about politics. From what I can tell, I’m pretty much right there in solidarity with you guys and what you’re promoting, but can we get into that a little more? I did notice lots of environmental themes on the album.
MK: Yeah, sure. Ask what you want.
HX: Specifically, what do you guys have to say about what’s going on with the environment, and what we should be doing as individuals. Maybe what activism you guys are involved in beyond sharing the message from the band.
MK: We totally think that the most important thing is to start with yourself. So many people reduce their activities just to answer what they think you want to hear, like ‘Yeah, we’re just buying organic meat. Yeah, we’re very conscious farm to cradle consumers. Blah, blah, blah’ And then they just go to Walmart and shop the most cheap stuff they can find. Really, if you want to change something, you have to start with yourself. We’re not the type of people that think that the time has come to change things on a really big scale. I mean, it’s about time to do that, but humanity’s not so far. We are actually in the process that everybody on their own should become conscious of what’s happening and start changing their own life. Then you can think about the big scale. That is what I believe. That’s why we’re supporting a lot of organizations that help change stuff on the small scale, as well.
But also, of course, we’re supporting Sea Shepherd, lots of friends of ours working on the ships for Sea Shepherd, and they help to bring the law out to the seas. There are laws against poaching and everything, but on the ocean, nobody cares about it. It’s important people take a stand there.
HX: So, the notes that I have from the label, say that you, as a band, embrace the straightedge lifestyle?
MK: We’ve never been a straightedge band in the way that we had straightedge lyrics, or something. We always had at least, like, a drinking guy in the band. We always thought it was something personal. To us, this veggie, vegan kind of thing is a lot more important.
HX: Also, I read that you guys are active lyrically and so on, in regards to anti-racism and anti-fascism? Can you talk about that a little bit?
MK: As I said, this is part of our DNA. Bringing points of view across regarding these topics, that was the reason we started making music. That’s also why the record is called Of Truth and Sacrifice. We don’t think we have the only truth and we can tell it to the people, on certain topics. I don’t know whether you vote Trump or Sanders, you know. That is something you can discuss about.
The truth we mean are the basic human rights you cannot discuss about. These rights are made to be discussed about again today. For example, does a human life in Africa have less worth than a human life in Europe or in North America? Stuff like that is being discussed again today. Or, should people have the right to access clean drinking water? Multinational corporations are about to discuss that again. Those are basic human rights. There’s only one truth about it. It’s not to be discussed. It’s a human right. Those are the things we are discussing about.
It’s the same with racism for example. Shit comes in all colors. Good people come in all colors. It doesn’t have anything to do with the skin, and you, these points of view. Very basic things, but it’s very frightening that even those basic things are being discussed again.
HX: Yeah, I agree. So, the people listening to your album, what do you hope they walk away and are thinking about or even do, after hearing it?
MK: I would love to think that they were really entertained and that they’re thinking about the lyrics. And that they had the impression that they were listening to some kind of music of a metal world theater. That they realize how many metal styles are going on on the record, from grindcore to speed metal, from melodic death metal to synthwave, from classical music to power metal, you know what I mean. That would be very nice for me, if people would feel like that.
HX: Why are you so varied in your sound? What do you think that brings to the table or to your audience?
MK: For this record, we just really wanted to live in the universe of the certain song. When we did the song that had the Dismember riff in it, I was listening to Swedish Stockholm style death metal for a week or for two weeks. I just lived in that sound. And, you know, we made the guitar sound like that, and the drum sound like that. When we had this Blind Guardian-like song, I was just listening to power and speed metal, you know. It was really fun to give every song the vibe it needs. To really dive into that kind of music. It was really fun. That’s the advantage of having a double record. You’re not only using a speed metal riff in a death metal song or something. You can do a speed metal song because you have the space. You have twenty songs and you can do as many experiments as you want. You’re doing not only a surprising part or riff in a song. You’re doing a whole song that’s surprising. That’s a great feeling.
HX: Do the two parts of this double record have different themes? Is one specifically “Of Truth” and the other is “Sacrifice”? Is that the way that works?
MK: Yeah, exactly. That’s the thought behind it. The first disc “Of Truth” lyric-wise is more like an empowerment, a call to arms. Whereas second part “Sacrifice” is more like reflecting about the stuff you’ve already sacrificed for the truth, and the sacrifices that may come. It’s a bit more reflective.
HX: I think right now, after a few listens, my favorite track is “Expatriate”, which is maybe an interesting choice in that a lot of it is samples, or spoken word by you guys.
MK: Yeah, that is all spoken word.
HX: There’s violins at play there. What’s the German in there?
MK: It’s about being true to your heart, in a way that you become aware and see all the problems around you, and you should stop ignoring them. That one day, it will come back to you. The last prominent line says something like, “All your states, all your colors, are just flotsam and jetsam in the tides of the time” or something like that. So, everything you’re aware of and proud of today, will be gone tomorrow. You should be true to yourself. One day, you’ll be in front of a court and will be judged. That court is not like a Doomsday or something. It’s more like, in your own heart, you have to justify yourself. Very emphatic, but also very poetic in German.
HX: I really love that moment, maybe almost halfway through, where the music fades, and you can clearly hear you say, “Never stop the struggle.” It’s just a great reminder.
MK: Great, thank you.
HX: Tell me about writing and recording this album. What was that process like? It’s been four years since your last one. Have you been writing this that whole time?
MK: No, we did it in the past two years. We did a life break. We didn’t play any shows for two years. It was a conscious decision. We just wanted to write and record this album without having any deadline. We decided to write and record it, and then talk about the release date with the label. It was a great way to work. We will definitely do that again. We didn’t have any deadline or pressure date-wise. It was a really great kind of freedom and unleashed so much creative power that a double album came out of it. You know, we always thought that a double album would be twice the work of a single album, but it’s at least thrice the work, we know now.
HX: Let’s talk a little bit about the album cover. It’s really beautiful. It almost looks like an oil painting. Can you tell me how that was created, who did it, and how it relates to the themes of the album?
MK: It’s from Eliran Kantor. He’s an artist from Israel, but he lives in Berlin in Germany. I think he’s one of the most talented metal artwork artists of these days. I totally think he will be in one league one day with legends like Dan Seagrave, for example. He also worked for Testament and Soulfly and bands like that. Also Hatebreed. Yeah, I sat down with him. When I told him the record title “Of Truth and Sacrifice” he was like, from the very beginning, “Oh, we should work with allegories.” We have a naked child for the naked truth, as a symbol for the naked truth. The mother as a symbol for the sacrifice. The lance that pierces the mother, but also helps the child to stand upright as an allegory for the relation of truth and sacrifice. He did a really great work with it. He was totally thinking about the whole thing like the old masters in oil painting. That’s how it came out so well.
HX: So, what’s next? It seems like tours are off for a little while.
MK: Seems like that, yeah.
HX: Are you guys going to take a break from writing again for awhile? Like a life break, like you said?
MK: That’s what we thought last time, but then I just wanted to sit down and record some riffs to not forget them, and two years later the record was done. It’s always like that. I just can’t imagine recording another record after so much work and pain, but in half a year, we will be totally keen to go back to a studio again. That will happen. It’s always the same. It’s the ninth record and we know ourselves very well.
HX: What else should we know about the band or the album?
MK: I think the most important part is that people should give it a listen with the thought that it’s like metal world theater and embrace all the styles brought on this record. And have a look into the lyrics. That would be very important to me.
HX: Thank you so much for taking the time to speak to me today.
MK: You’re welcome. It was a nice chat.
Biography: Hayduke X has been writing for MoshPitNation since June of 2016. Beginning in 2018, he also began writing for VM Metal Underground. Prior to joining the MoshPitNation team, Hayduke published reviews on his own blog Rage and Frustration. In addition, he has DJ’ed an online metal radio show of the same name as his blog, written for TOmetal.com, done interviews for Metal Rules, and collaborated with The Art of B Productions to create video interviews with a wide variety of bands.