Latest release: Veto (Century Media) Website: www.heavenshallburn.com
“Heaven Shall Burn has always been a political band,” says the German metalcore act’s guitarist Maik Weichert amiably. “We don’t consider ourselves to be artists like a band like Opeth or Mastodon who create artworks with their music. Heaven Shall Burn is a blunt force, punching our message in your face. That’s what we are about, and everybody should know that.”
That’s why, he explains, the hard-hitting five piece decided to call their latest album Veto.
“It means ‘I forbid’, but nowdays it’s taken to mean bringing an objection to people’s ideas like punching on the table with your fist and staying ‘Stop it!’,” Weichert says. “That’s the meaning of ‘veto’ for us. It’s just a very powerful word and also describes our attitude as people who always voice our opinion about things we don’t agree with.”
One of the many things Heaven Shall Burn doesn’t agree with is commercial whaling, or sports hunting of any kind. To this end they filmed a clip for one of the album’s key tracks, ‘Hunters Will be Hunted’, in support of the Sea Shepherd anti-whaling group, although Weichert explains that the track could be about any form of hunting.
“’Hunters Will be Hunted’ is really about the Sea Shepherd organisation but it can just as easily be translated to be about any kind of ordinary hunters, like we did in the video. It’s a topic you can think about on many levels.”
Like good activists, Heaven Shall Burn stand by their principles and have been known to turn down shows they’ve been offered depending upon who’s putting the money up. While they aren’t opposed to corporate sponsorship for festivals or tours per se, there are certain companies they’d rather not be associated with.
“There were a few festivals that were presented by, for example, McDonalds or something like that that we didn’t play, where McDonalds or Burger King were the main sponsors. We’ve also got tour offers from companies that are really, really aggressive promoters of alcohol consumption and that is also something we don’t want to support,” the guitarist explains. “We’re not a straight edge band, and there are guys in our band who drink alcohol, but we also have friends and families who have died because of alcohol and I don’t think alcohol is something that should be promoted to young people in an aggressive way.”
The band dedicated part of their Iconoclast album trilogy to the efforts of the German Resistance during World War II, the small and usually decentralised and unorganised groups within the country that directly opposed Hitler and plotted his downfall. Naturally enough, then, those with Nazi sensibilities who dare to turn up to a Heaven Shall Burn performance are given short shrift. It’s another thing that Weichert is proud of.
“When we play in Germany, we do care if there are Nazis in our audience, or fascist people or White Power skins or something like that. And we throw them out! We don’t want them to spend their money on us. I don’t want them to buy our shirts or CDs. Fuck their money!” he says. “I don’t want it from these people. And that is something that many bands don’t do. They just don’t care. Twenty dollars from a fascist asshole is as good as twenty dollars from some skater kid to them. Of course, we can’t avoid it if some asshole has ordered our CDs from Amazon or something like that, but at least we’ve voiced our opinion that we don’t want that. We make sure that people know what to think of us. There is no grey zone. That’s a thing we make black and white.”
While their message is strong, Weichert insists that Heaven Shall Burn don’t preach from the stage when they play live. They would rather let their music do the talking and hope that the audience absorbs what they’re into and about from the songs themselves.
“It’s not a [political] party event or an election or something like that. We don’t say any political things on stage, we want people to have fun at our shows and open their hearts to our message,” he says. “So they come home, maybe they care about our message and our lyrics. If kids come to a show… at school they get told what to do, at work they get told what to do, at home they get told what to do. We don’t have to do that onstage as well.”
In spite of his personal politics, the main thing Weichert wants is for people to make up their own minds. Above and beyond all their other messages, he reckons Heaven Shall Burn’s most important role is to empower its audience and give them the knowledge to decide where they stand on issues for themselves.
“That is our main message: that people should think on their own,” he says emphatically. “That they shouldn’t rely on instant ideologies that are prepared by some politicians or dictators. I don’t want someone to follow something like sheep. Not in a left wing way and not in a right wing way. People should think on their own and then they will make the right decision. People should overcome that fear that they don’t have their own ideology and they don’t know what to do. That is something that is implemented by today’s government and leaders, that fear is the most effective way to steer the masses. And that is something that a band like Napalm Death is all about, and we are a band in that tradition.”
Heaven Shall Burn has toured the world widely, including an appearance at the 2012 Soundwave Festival about which Weichert says they were “truly overwhelmed by how many true supporters came out to see us quite early in the morning in the burning sun”. Remarkably, while they’ve played several times in countries like Japan and Chile, Weichert admits that there are still quite a few places in their native Germany they have yet to appear.
“People are always complaining that we fly around the world but never play our neighbourhood so that is something we always have to keep an eye on,” he says. “Germany isn’t divided into A, B and C markets like the US, but bands are always playing the same cities and you sometimes realise that there are five or six really cool shows going on in Berlin every night and there are 1000, maybe a few hundred seeing a show, whereas you do a show a hundred kilometres west in a city where not so many bands play you get three times more people because they’re hungry to see a really cool show. So that’s something we want to do more in the future.”
After the reaction they got at Soundwave, Heaven Shall Burn are keen to return to Australian shores one day too.
“[Soundwave] was really, really awesome,” the guitarist says. “We never expected such great feedback. We had a really good time and reached a lot of new people. With our new album in our backpack, we are really working on coming back. There’s already a few ideas; nothing I can talk about right now, but we will be back for sure.”