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Interviews   

« The music is like a missile, and the lyrics are the warhead for it »


When you listen to him, Maik, Heaven Shall Burn’s guitarist, seems more fascinated by history than by music. Music seems to be a pretext for him to convey a message, and to re-establish historical accuracy, in particular for some specific WWII events:
« The music is like a missile, and the lyrics are the warhead for it « .

He admits it with a humility that commands respect: « Without the lyrics, I don’t think that our music, or even Heaven Shall Burn would be anything special. We’re totally aware that we’re not Morbid Angel or Dream Theater, like great musicians who just do Art through the music they play ».

In accordance with this state of mind which almost puts music on the back burner, we’ve ended up talking more about politics and history than about Invictus, the band’s last record closing the « Iconoclast: The Final Resistance » trilogy, a series which also contained a documentary. You may or may not like this trilogy from a musical point of view, but it deserves to be noted for its effort to put in the spotlight historical heroes who are often not mentioned in schoolbooks anymore. And it is also with a most sincere passion that Maik condemns our consumer society’s lack of awareness of the Third World’s sufferings.


« In Germany they make a big deal of the military resistance, of honourable soldiers who tried to kill Hitler. But those were just Nazis trying to kill other Nazis. After their coup, they planned to establish another military regime. I’m not really impressed by these heroes, but Germany celebrates them: I think it’s totally wrong. »

This album is a continuation of your trilogy made up from your previous album, Iconoclast, and a live album. It is quite unusual to include a live album in a conceptual series. Why did you do this ?

Maik Weichert (Guitar) : Iconoclast II is actually not only a live album, it’s a part of the whole concept. It’s a DVD with a documentary, and it is in some way the heart of that release. With that documentary, we wanted to show how media, TV, or videos can be used to manipulate people.

Could you tell us about the origins of this trilogy and its objective ?

When we wrote Iconoclast, the idea was to tell unconventional stories about famous and unknown heroes and to present them from a different angle. When we wrote this album, we did not think of making a second and a third part. We were then about to do a DVD, and we thought that an iconoclastic approach would also be really cool for it. Through the documentary, we wanted to show things from a different point of view again. When we wrote the lyrics and the music for our new record Invictus, we realised how much the lyrics were connected to the ones in the previous albums. The topics were overall the same, as the stories talk again about unconventional heroes, and question some stories and historical points of view. We logically decided to make it a third part, but the concept of trilogy was not originally intended.

According to the press release, « Again stories about unconventional heroes are being told, a different light is cast upon well known idols and legends ». These characters that you mention (such as Lieutenaut Lengfeld, a German man who tried to save an American soldier during the Second World War and got killed) and the historical events that you mention are considered to be anecdotal by the media and history books. This was the case with « Armia », on the album Deaf To Our Prayers, which was about the Battle of Warsaw in 1944.
Do you think that there is injustice in the treatment of some tragedies ?

I totally think so. Many heroes’ stories or historical facts are used by politicians to make policy or to influence people’s opinions. If some stories do not match their ideas, then they just don’t use them. Those facts are not told or taught anymore, which leads to more and more people forgetting them. The Warsaw uprising is for instance a very big thing: many museums tell about it, but in Germany nobody really thinks about it anymore, because it is a stain in Germany’s history.

The album mentions a few times the Germans who acted as heroes and those who displayed their opposition to Nazism. Do you believe that it is important to show the Germans during the Second World War in a different light ?

Yes it is important, but I try to present actors of the Resistance who are not very famous. In Germany they make a big deal of the military resistance, of honourable soldiers who tried to kill Hitler. But those were just Nazis trying to kill other Nazis. After their coup, they planned to establish another military regime. I’m not really impressed by these heroes, but Germany celebrates them : I think it’s totally wrong. There were ordinary people who did resist, French Resistance was for instance very strong. In Germany, some students contributed to Resistance by spreading flyers against Hitler. This kind of Resistance and the stories attached to it are a lot more valuable. They fought for their own ideas and did not have the aim to gain total power, or to rule the country. It was just about being free again.

You should stop playing music and teach history in high schools instead !

No, not at all! Nobody would listen to me if I just spread flyers or if I wrote an article. But if I have a guitar in my hand and our singer tells something, then there will be someone to listen. There are people who don’t go to university, or who go there but are tired of listening to those stories: our music allows them to approach the topic from a different angle. That question was a little provocative, but I know what you mean (laughs).


« Who in the northern world wants these people to have access to cars, refrigerators, etc? If that happened, the world would exist for another ten minutes, and it would then explode, or just go down! We have to keep them in poverty to secure our very comfortable way of living. As long as we don’t change something about the way our wealth is, it won’t be possible to change anything for these poor people. And that is just miserable. »

The Omen seems to denounce the ignorance of a society living in comfort without knowing about the struggles of others. Do you think that there is a large gap between those who suffer and the others, and that the two worlds do not communicate with each other ?

Yes, totally. They actually do communicate with each other, but the ‘First World’ just gives orders to the Third World. It’s not a discussion or a dialogue, it’s just a matter of establishing an authority on the weaker ones, and that is totally wrong. Every day you get up, you turn on the light in your bathroom, and you’re right in the middle of the system that enslaves half of our planet. It is important to be aware that the wealth that we have is the poverty that the rest of the world has to suffer from. When you take that into account, you start having a really different view on things.

Have you ever been in a country like, for instance, Nicaragua, where you have these big American houses just a few meters away from slums ?

I have not really been to Nicaragua… I was just there briefly when I went to Costa Rica as it’s just across the border, but I did not see much there. But we’ve been to countries like Argentina, Brazil, Chile, or Guatemala, where you see the same kind of development. There, the First and Third worlds are just a few meters from each other. In Rio, you can look down at favelas from the top of skyscrapers… these worlds are just existing within each other, that is even more insane.

According to you, what is the reason for this gap ?

The reason for this gap is the exploitation of these countries, and of these areas. Who in the northern world wants these people to have access to cars, refrigerators, etc? If that happened, the world would exist for another ten minutes, and it would then explode, or just go down! We have to keep them in poverty to secure our very comfortable way of living. As long as we don’t change something about the way our wealth is, it won’t be possible to change anything for these poor people. And that is just miserable.

When you listen to Heaven Shall Burn, you realise that the music illustrates the lyrics very well. The violence and melancholy of your tracks sound like the musical translation of your lyrics. Is it important for you to keep up this strong link between the two ?

Yes, the main emotion in our music is always anger and rage. There are some calm passages on our records, which make the furious passages even more furious. There is a strong connexion between the music and the lyrics. They are so full of rage that the music has to translate the same emotion, of course.

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Is the violence in your music a result of the themes you address ?

Yes, totally.


« The music is here to encourage people to read our lyrics. The music is just a media to transport them. Like I always say, « the music is like a missile, and the lyrics are the warhead for it ». They go very well together. »

If you wrote about lighter subjects, would your music follow this pattern ?

I don’t know, simply because I am not writing about that. When we started Heaven Shall Burn, we were totally aware that it would be a way to express our political opinion. We would never write about lighter stuff, about dragons, slayers, knights and hobbits. (laughs) We would maybe do that with another band, but not with Heaven Shall Burn.

Your lyrics are very interesting. Your opinions and lyrics are often highlighted in your press releases or biographies. Are they highlighted on purpose to attract people’s attention and make them listen to your music ?

It’s not a technique to sell more albums. The music is here to encourage people to read our lyrics. The music is just a media to transport them. Like I always say, « the music is like a missile, and the lyrics are the warhead for it ». They go very well together.

Do you think it would be harder to attract people to your music without these lyrics ?

Yes I totally think so. Without the lyrics, I don’t think that our music, or even Heaven Shall Burn would be anything special. We’re totally aware that we’re not Morbid Angel or Dream Theater, like great musicians who just do Art through the music they play.

By giving your music cultural/intellectual support, in the way that you do, does it enable you to gain credibility in people’s minds? People are less likely to criticise the music of bands with pertinent opinions…

Yes I think so. I get a lot of emails from people saying that our music is far too hard for them, but that they heard about the lyrics, read them, and found them interesting. They still don’t like the music itself, but the lyrics made them think. I think there are a few people who like us because of the attitude we have, but on the other hand, there are a lot of people who just like us because of the music we make. They don’t all care about the lyrics.

The production of this album is similar to that of Iconoclast. It is quite massive; was this resemblance intentional in order to ensure coherence within The Final Resistance concept ?

Yes, that was one of the thoughts. But the main idea was ‘never change a winning team’. We rehearsed and recorded a lot with Tue Madsen, as we thought he was the perfect guy for this job. When you know someone so well, you can start at a higher level from the very beginning. If you get a new producer, you have to get to know each other, to get warm with each other. That takes a lot longer than with somebody you’ve already worked with. When you use the same team to produce several albums, it makes the concept more compact and coherent: the sound remains pretty much the same from one album to the other. This time, we actually even improved some of that sound.

A few words on your album intros which are almost exactly the same… This stands out even more when you compare Endzeit and The Omen. Was this intentional ? Why ?

Yes that was intentional, because it should connect the parts with each other. That is why we changed the theme of the intro a little bit. You can listen to those two albums in a row and feel that they really connect to each other very well.

You announced that this album would include a few innovations. There are in fact a few electronic touches and some black metal riffs and harmonies. However, as we listen to the album, these developments are very discreet. This was also the case with a disco part in Iconoclast. Why such shyness, is it to avoid shocking your fans too much ?

To be honest yes, I think that’s the reason. But actually, you could not really imagine Heaven Shall Burn making techno music, that’s not what our fans want to hear. We developed that stuff in a certain direction and we don’t know where it will go. This time, it’s a bit more than last time, and next time it might be even more than this time! We’re still waiting to find out where all this goes, but we don’t want to do it so radically that we would produce a techno song! People would not understand it, and we’re not good at writing techno songs anyway! No one would want that from us! I’d totally hate it if one of my favourite bands would start doing a totally different kind of music all of a sudden.


« Without the lyrics, I don’t think that our music, or even Heaven Shall Burn would be anything special. We’re totally aware that we’re not Morbid Angel or Dream Theater, like great musicians who just do Art through the music they play.»

Could you tell us about your collaboration with Sabine Weniger from Deadlock on the track « Given In Death »? How was it that you got in contact ?

We were always really good friends with the band. We went on tour together, and we’re from the same area in Germany. When we wrote the song, we realised that it would be very emotional and sensitive. It did not really fit to have only a screaming voice in this specific song. Since the lyrics are very sensitive, we thought about including a female voice. This is how we thought about working with the Deadlock guys. We tried it, and it came out very nicely. It’s the last song on the record: when you reach it, you’ve heard so many aggressive songs before that you might be happy to listen to a calmer one as well.

Is it a good ending to the trilogy ?

Yes, I think so. After all the aggressive stuff, I think it is a nice surprise at the end of the record.

When will a member of Heaven Shall Burn do a collaboration on a Deadlock album?

Why not, we never thought about it. We’ll have to ask them, but I could really imagine that. We all like the Deadlock stuff, it’s a really cool band.

Interview made by phoner on the 27th of april 2010.

French translation : Sandra

Heaven Shall Burn website : www.myspace.com/officialheavenshallburn




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