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For this we won no one less than Heaven Shall Burn over for an exclusive Radio show – one of Germanys most successful international Metalcore bands these days.
Within a very personal broadcast the five German guys from Thuringia deliver an excellent insight in their work from the very first days back in 1997 until today. From the beginning on the quintet assumed the role as a pioneer among a few other bands by permanently disregarding all boundaries in Metal music. Totally unabashed they mix Death Metal with other hardcore genres like Trash Metal.
Consequently they became worldwide famous as a powerful live act after short time, touring the globe and headlining all big Metal festival go without saying. To rarefy their Radio Show we talked with drummer Matthias Voigt about their ambitious lyrics, growing up in the German Democratic Republic without a real Metal scene and about the quiet everyday life of a Metal musician.
You changed your name in the beginning of your career three times from to and then finally to – why? Did you search for a name that is significant?
Matthias Voigt: Actually the change from Before The Fall to Consense happened due to some line-up-changes within the band. Not to forget that we also developed musically. We became more able to play the music that we always wanted to play. I think that every single band is looking for a name that is significant in some way and in the beginning it also wasn’t such a big thing to change the name. We didn’t have a great history yet and were still trying to shape the band.
To get a name, that we all like, was just part of this process. When we recorded our first CD, our name was still Consense, but we all knew that there could be better names for our band. So right before the printing of the CD, there was this “now or never”-situation. It would have been stupid to discuss the name after the release. So we finally took some time and eventually changed our name into Heaven Shall Burn.
You grew up in the German Democratic Republic – was it hard to listen to Metal in this political system or was there a vital scene that influenced you?
Matthias Voigt: There had been lots of bands and also fans, but I’d been too young to be a real part of that. I only listened to the music at home and can’t tell that much about a scene. I only know that Metal had been very strong. Even the radio-stations couldn’t ignore that people loved heavy music and they played Metal. Sometimes they played the A-Side of a record one week and the B-Side the following week. So people could record at home and enjoy the sound.
Of course you couldn’t just go to a store and buy the newest records but some Whitesnake, AC/DC or Van Halen records had been released in the GDR. Some bands from the GDR like Formel 1, Biest, Berluc or Plattform could release LP’s and got featured in the national music press. But, of course, this was more the mainstream.
If you wanted to get something heavier, darker and faster, “Tape-trading” was the key. People just copied tapes and spread the music. If someone got an original LP, he recorded for his friends and the tapes got copied again and so on…it was like a network. The quality was horrible most of the times, but it was enough to explore “new” bands and sounds.
What are the most influential Metal- and Hardcore bands that encouraged you to launch your own band?
Matthias Voigt: The first shows that I saw made me want to form a band and to get active. Bands like Dismember, Napalm Death, Tankard and Sodom had been some of the first ones I saw and from the beginning I liked the energy that got released on stage.
It didn’t want to play the same style, but it made me think about how it would be to play some instrument…and even if it would have been only for myself. I Just thought about getting active in some way.
It still took a while for me to start, but when I got closer to the hardcore-scene, everything looked easier and not impossible. You know, one main thing in the punk and hardcore-philosophy is, that everyone can play in a band and express emotions and thoughts. It’s not about being a perfect musician, it’s about getting active and that was exactly the point that really encouraged me to start. In metal, some musicians are treated like icons and rockstars and in punk and hardcore, the musicians are not above the average. At least it used to be like that…
Personally that hardcore-environment encouraged us to start. I wouldn’t name any certain band. There had been many musical, influential bands like Earth Crisis, Liar, Congress and so on, but the whole scene helped us to start.
You mix all sorts of hardcore guitar music – from Death Metal to Trash Metal – why?
Matthias Voigt: We just play the music that we like and naturally, it’s a mixture of everything that we like.
It is said that in the beginning you been a band that toured only on the weekends and in the week all member worked in their job – why?
Matthias Voigt: We’re still like that. There are some tours here and there, but, apart from that, we only play on weekends.
We love to play and we wanna keep the joy of playing live. We simply wanna keep the flame burning. We wouldn’t like to do it as a job and play shows, we normally wouldn’t like to play.
You know, if you wanna make a living off the music, you need to compromise. Not music wise, but you need to accept shows, just to pay your bills and that’s something what we wouldn’t like to do. If we’re now on stage, people can be sure that it’s the place where we want to be at this evening and that we’re not there, because we need money. We can’t say anything about the future and if we’ll take some time off from our jobs and studies one day, but we never want to focus on the band 100%.
Your album titles often act like a referee to other bands and even to poets like Heinrich Heine – what the goal behind this? You want to give your fans a line on something?
Matthias Voigt: Yes, of course. There are listeners who only care about the music and not about the lyrics and that’s fine, but for all the other people we want to deliver something interesting and something that makes them think if they want so.
In your lyrics you fight against racism, fascism, you deal with political problems and you often proclaim a better treatment of the environment. How does such ambitious content work together with the entertaining part of your job?
Matthias Voigt: We think it’s working well together. The shows are more about the entertaining part and you won’t hear us preaching on stage. People are there to have fun and if you start a 10-minute monolog, they will get bored and they will stop paying attention after a very short time already. To us, the stage is not to right place to discuss.
People who are interested, will read the lyrics or start getting in touch with us to talk about some things. That’s happing after and before the shows but also via e-mail.
We think that you can’t force people to deal with certain issues. You can only offer something and they will decide the rest. If you’re preaching, people won’t listen to you anymore and they won’t discuss. That’s at least our experience.
The image of a Metal guy is still often an angry and hard one – how is Heaven Shall Burn in private? What are you doing on your free weekends? And is it special to be in a Metal band and also being a vegan?
Matthias Voigt: We’re just average guys. On weekends we spend time with friends, we go to the football stadium or to shows, we do sports or we’re just lazy or being with our girlfriends. Nothing different from most people.
To me it’s not so special to play in a Metal band. Many of the people that I’m in touch with, are doing that.
The same about veganism. Many people that are surrounding us are vegans or vegetarian and so we’re not different from them. To be a vegan is also much easier now than it was 15 years ago. Even if you go out with non-vegan friends, it’s not a big deal to find a restaurant that offers something for everyone. We don’t even have to think that much about being vegans anymore. It’s just a part of our lives and things are much easier now.
And do you still live in the countryside of Saalfeld in Thuringia? If yes – what makes it special?
Matthias Voigt: We live in different places, but rehearse in Saalfeld. The place where I’m living right now is even smaller than you can imagine…hehe. I think 500 people are living here, but it’s fine for me. It’s calm, but at the same time, everything is close. If you need something, you need to drive 10 minutes and at the same time you just leave the house and the nature is surrounding you. I used to live in a bigger city for 8 or 9 years, but live here is much more comfortable.
Three of us are living in Saalfeld and they also like to be there…they have their jobs, nature is close as well and, of course, many friends are living there as well.
When you write songs you think at first on how they will work on stage or is the stage never in your thoughts when you arrange new music?
Matthias Voigt: I think that if we like to play a song, it’s also good for the stage. So there are no thoughts like that…at least not for me. If a song makes you release and spend energy, it also works for the crowd.
On the other hand we also write songs that we won’t ever play live. There are songs that are a bit calmer and you won’t ever be able to make them live sounding like on a CD.
Its writen that you are one of the best live bands in the scene – what would you advice to newcomers to get such a reputation?
Matthias Voigt: It’s nice to hear such things, but we only go on stage and play our songs as good as we can. I think if you like the music that you play, you can’t go that wrong on stage. Even if you don’t play every single note 100% accurate, people can see and feel if something is honest and they appreciate that.
You toured several times around the globe – what are the most special countries for you to perform?
Matthias Voigt: I think it’s always good if you play at the other end of the world and people seem to wait for you over there. If they sing along and enjoy the music.
I can’t even mention one or two countries that are more special to us than others. But I can say that it’s always special to travel and to play in front of new people. It’s very exciting! It’s like a dream if you are able to travel to South America, Australia, the US or Japan. But that’s not only about playing shows. Deep in our hearts we’re all just tourists…hehehe.
What about the future – do you have any new release plans, collaborations like you once did with the German Metalcore band Caliban or special concerts in in your agenda?
Matthias Voigt: We’re about to start writing a new album very soon, but it won’t be out before 2010. Besides that there are some plans for touring, but nothing is sure yet. So unfortunately we can’t announce anything new at the moment. But if there will be something new, it will be up at Heaven Shall Burn.