Not a Marduk Cover Band
CoC chats with Maik Weichert of Heaven Shall Burn
by: Jackie Smit
The Associated Press recently ran an article detailing a study on the lyrics in modern metal, name-checking among others rising stars like Lamb of God, Chimaira, God Forbid and Soilwork. The writer in question determined that many of heavy music's current crop had departed from the self-indulgent wallowing of nu-metal and had instead adopted an overwhelmingly positive and life-affirming core message. Of course, black and death metal did not form a part of this investigation, but in reading the article one is struck by the fact that in slightly less extreme quarters, metal may well be on the verge of growing up. Certainly in this sense, there are few bands more effective in carrying over as strong and empowering a message as Germany's Heaven Shall Burn -- a band whose latest effort hits mighty hard in terms of both thought-provoking diatribes and sheer musical brutality. I recently caught up with guitarist Maik Weichert, who shed some light on veganism, politics and why he dislikes Formula 1.

CoC: Your previous record (_Whatever It May Take_) was very aggressive, but on your latest record you seem to have reached new peaks in terms of blatant heaviness. Considering the political and reality-based approach of your lyrics, would you cite recent world events as a principal cause for this?

Maik Weichert: Yes, of course -- there's been a lot of rage flowing into our music that was caused by things happening in the world right now. But at the same time, it wasn't actually motivated by any specific political developments. It's more like a feeling that we're a part of the system and that we can't do anything about it. If there's a war in Africa or in Arabia for example, we can go out into the streets and we can protest against it; we can get together in vast masses of people and shout against these things, but at the end of the day the reason they happen is to protect our wealth. If you wake up in the morning and turn on the light switch, then you're a part of that game; and even though you may be against it, you're still benefiting from it. It's something that we can't do anything about, because it's not a viable alternative to go out and live in the mountains of Afghanistan, so in a way this is almost like aggression toward ourselves, and also to our leaders and to the people that tell us every day what we shall do and what we shall think.

CoC: [Referring to the article I spoke of in the preface to this interview] With more and more legitimate metal acts preaching positivity and self-empowerment, would you say that this new-found attitude detracts from the danger and excitement of the genre in any way?

MW: I don't think so. With Heaven Shall Burn we have always had that approach, but I also love bands like Cannibal Corpse and I really hope that nobody takes their lyrics seriously! However, I do hope that people think about our lyrics and the ideas that we project. We don't see ourselves as artists -- we're not as skilled on our instruments as Cannibal Corpse, but we deliver social and political commentary and we as a group try to initiate thought in our listeners, which in turn could hopefully generate change -- and in that sense our lyrics and our message is equally as important as our music. I always say that our music is like our missile and our lyrics are the warhead. We aren't like an ordinary metal band -- I think that we have more in common with bands like Napalm Death and Kreator, who always had that political theme running through their songs.

CoC: With Heaven Shall Burn being classed as a metalcore band in many quarters, and you all being straight-edge and vegan, I was interested to know what your take was on why hardcore seems to attract such a variety of extreme schools of thought -- everything from Christianity to Nazism to Veganism appears to have its own niche in the hardcore scene.

MW: Hardcore and punk has always been the most political part of the extreme music spectrum, and this is where bands like that gather. Take again a band like Napalm Death -- they could very easily be a band with gore lyrics, but because of their message and the topics that they deal with you have kids in the hardcore and punk scenes listening to them. I don't think that you can define hardcore purely by music -- it also has a lot to do with the attitude and the lyrics. I mean, if for example we play in front of a metal crowd, nobody will be overwhelmed by our hardcore influences and vice versa. With us the hardcore aspect is defined by our lyrics, and I think that most socially conscious bands -- whether they write about animal cruelty or social ills -- can be defined as hardcore.

CoC: Sticking to the topic of extreme schools of thought, what attracted you to veganism and being straight-edge?

MW: Well, it didn't really have anything to do with the music; it was just the right choice for me. I mean, so many people who are straight-edge look down on people because they smoke or because they drink, and I would not do that. For me it would be stupid to drink or do stuff like that, but for others -- that's their decision. There are many assholes who are straight-edge and many cool people who drink. As far as veganism, it's really about an awareness of the problems in nature. We have all been vegetarians for about ten years already, and being vegan is just a consequence of that. It was a very easy step for us to take. We know that it's not the solution to all the problems in the world, but it's the right thing to do. And if we reach someone with our lyrics to the extent that someone goes to McDonald's one less time, or takes a bicycle to the pub and not the car, then we have already achieved something.

CoC: I'm interested to know why you decided to change your name from Consense to Heaven Shall Burn, which carries with it the obvious connection to black metal -- something that you are quite obviously very far removed from.

MW: That's true; we've always had the problem that people think that we're a black metal band or a Marduk cover band or something, but we wanted to make a statement with the band's name, and to us that means that people should open their eyes and not follow the wrong ideals or false dreams. It has nothing to do with Satanism, just that people should live in reality and not follow illusions. Actually I think a name like Poison the Well is far meaner.

CoC: What was the reason for the name change?

MW: We had a line-up change and the guy that left had also been writing a lot of the music, so the style changed a bit. I think that Consense was more of a "real" metal band in a way. We had our political ideas, but the approach to the hardcore scene came after the line-up change when we weren't really the same band anymore.

CoC: Going back to the diverse audience that is attracted to hardcore -- has the band ever had any problems with white power skinheads or neo-Nazis at your shows?

MW: Yes, we have. I mean, we are from East Germany and neo-Nazis are a big problem here, so sometimes they come to our shows and they try to start trouble, but we are lucky that we also a attract a lot of cool people who share our views and support us. So from time to time, we have some assholes turn up at our shows wearing Blue Eyed Devil shirts or something like that. But we don't tell the audience: "Hey, beat these motherfuckers up!" Instead we just tell the audience to turn around and laugh at them, which I think is way worse for them than getting beat up. But of course here in East Germany... it's a very weak part of Germany: there are a lot of problems, like unemployment, and it's very easy for these radical groups to influence young minds. We really try to show people something different. More often than not, these troubled kids are just looking for someone to identify with.

CoC: Do you think that living in a country with the history of East Germany played a role in inspiring a lot of the aggression in your music?

MW: Well, it's the thing that where we come from we grew up always questioning things and always questioning authority. Take my dad, for example: he woke up one day and everything that he believed in for forty years was gone, and as I child I was taught those same things, only to have it all switch back from communism to capitalism. I don't think that anyone can understand that if they didn't live it.

CoC: Rammstein come from the same area as you do, and looking to their success and considering their background, do you think that they played a role in inspiring other bands from East Germany to start working more pro-actively and to be more focused?

MW: Oh yeah, totally -- they definitely inspired us; perhaps not musically, but we were still very inspired by what they were able to achieve. Some of their first shows were actually in our town, and I remember being at their shows where they were playing to about 80 people in shitty clubs and they were using homemade pyros. They had all actually been in punk bands before and had been part of the scene for a long time, so a lot of people looked up to them as role-models, and to look at them now -- I'm very glad that they have achieved all their success, because they really deserve it.

CoC: Considering how popular some of the subgenres in metal (particularly metalcore) is becoming, would say that reaching the heights that Rammstein has done is something that Heaven Shall Burn is aiming for in the future?

MW: Not really, because we don't have the same kind of commercial appeal. Also, Rammstein created a very unique type of music, and I don't think that we are that original. I mean, right now I make enough money from the band that I can concentrate only on playing shows, writing music and my studies, and that is an advantage that I would not have had without Heaven Shall Burn, so I am very lucky.

CoC: What do you study?

MW: Law... I'm a fucking lawyer! <laughs>

CoC: What about the other members of the band: are they students as well?

MW: Yeah, we're all students. Our singer did environmental science and finished that, and now he is studying medicine or something. Our bass player works with disabled people, our drummer studies economy and our other guitarist is studying something to do with electronics -- it won't surprise me if he becomes a famous professor one day.

CoC: What takes top priority for you, the band or your studies?

MW: Well, right now I'd say the band, but we are lucky because when we are touring there is so much time to study in between soundchecks or when you're on the bus or something. Heaven Shall Burn has a goal to instigate change in the world, and if we are able to do it in our jobs one day, then we shall be achieving the same thing that we want to do with our music. We don't want to be rock stars, we just want to make music and promote our message. If I can do that one day as a lawyer or as a judge and I realise that I can do more in my profession to achieve that goal, then I will choose that. I can always play music for fun.

CoC: What's the touring schedule like for Heaven Shall Burn in 2004?

MW: I think we'll be covering Europe in weekend shows, because I think that gives you enough time to rest so that when the next show comes up you can give it your all and not be tired like if you were playing forty shows or something. Hopefully those shows will include the UK, Scandinavia and places like that. We'll also play some shows in the US and later this year we will also be going to South America and Chile, which is going to be great for us because some of our songs are based on incidents that happened there.

CoC: Any other plans for the near future?

MW: Well, there's the touring, like I said, and then we'll be writing exams, and after that's over there will probably be another new CD. We're also busy doing a video for the song "The Weapon They Fear" that will hopefully be on MTV.

CoC: One final question -- I read this on the website and I was very distraught when I saw it: why do you hate Formula 1?

MW: For me it's not a sport, really. I have deep respect for the drivers -- they are very talented and they do a great job, but the rest is just a technical battle based around money. It's the same with tennis and golf and soccer: it has nothing to do with sport anymore. Look at Beckham: he's a pop star, not a football player. He isn't there because he wants to beat the opposing team; he's just there for the money. I'd rather just see some kids in a bicycle race than watch Formula 1. Same with football: I'd rather watch some third division games than anything in the big leagues; at least the players fight more.

CoC: But surely you have to feel some pride in seeing your countryman, Michael Schumacher, lay waste to everyone in F1?

MW: No -- Schumacher is so ugly that I could never support him! <laughs>

(article submitted 5/31/2004)


ALBUMS
7/20/2006 J Smit 8.5 Heaven Shall Burn - Deaf to Our Prayers
3/23/2004 X Hoose 8 Heaven Shall Burn - Antigone
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