(Comrade Aleks returns to NCS with a new interview, and this time his conversation partner is Sceot Acwealde of the fascinating British band Bretwaldas Of Heathen Doom.)
Bretwaldas Of Heathen Doom (England) has acted as a duet since 2001. Dagfari Wartooth performs bass and vocals, and Sceot Acwealde does drums, guitars and vocals as well. Blackened war pagan doom metal with a straight-in-your-face delivery – once that would have summed up their legacy, though the band’s sound has varied from their first album Droner (2003) ’til Seven Bloodied Ramparts (2010).
Bretwaldas literally disappeared from the radars after that latter release, and only the compilation Bones In The Ground (2015) served as a reminder of their savage legacy. Some time ago I lost hope, stopped watching for the band, and naturally missed their EP Kingdom Of Killers released in May 2020. Well, all of us had a lot of things to care for in May 2020, right? But it’s time to put things right and we’re here to know everything that you wanted to learn about Bretwaldas Of Heathen Doom but were afraid to ask!
Hi Scott! How are you? How is it spending quarantine in England?
Hello Aleksey! (Also, hallo to the FSB and GRU?) It’s not so bad right now. I am busy anyway, selling the house. We have lived here in a poor part of Birmingham for twenty years, and the area has changed beyond recognition – it used to be like a little village, but now it’s a complete shit-hole. The house needs a few things repairing, but luckily I have learned some building skills over the years. Also, my business has mostly collapsed due to the Covid shutdowns, so I am living like a peasant.
It’s ok though, because I was always a pessimist anyway and was partly prepared – anyone who can be bothered to read history understands that things change, the idea of social progress is a myth, human instinct always prevails, and we are forever living in its shadow. Wartooth is very similar to me – he will have made arrangements for any potential Armageddon. I’ve chopped enough firewood to last the winter, and stocked up on cheap vodka, and of course root vegetables for my provincial stews….
Such an inspiring speech! It seems I could hear the thundering hooves of four horsemen. Bretwaldas Of Heathen Doom awoke from their slumber this year and here we have your new EP Kingdom Of Killers, so accept my congratulations! But first of all, what was the reason for such a huge ten-year break between releases? The Bones in the Ground compilation doesn’t count.
Thanks for asking. Yeah, ten years – and 2020 is very different to 2010, so much has changed, it’s another world, and all the old rules and alliances have fallen away, so our band approach has changed a bit too. But yes, about the gap, I have explained this is in a few interviews recently. Basically it was a combination of our writing process no longer working, and real life ‘getting in the way’. In 2008 there was the financial crash and in 2010 I had no job, so we couldn’t keep our lockup going. Both myself and Wartooth also had some major issues with family during 2010-15 – he lost close family, and I nearly lost my daughter (she’s OK now). Rather difficult to keep your art going in such circumstances. We were both always down-to-earth, and felt we had life in perspective, but those kind of events make you much less likely to want to take any of the shit the world has had to put up with in the last five years, what with populism and all that bullshit. So, by 2018 we were getting started again, and now we are very much back; to confuse and befuddle the world, and spread our music further.
Which role does the band play in your life today when tomorrow is a blurred Bosch painting of totalitarian predatory capitalism and shit storms?
Ha ha ha! I’m sure that like lots of bands, it probably keeps us both grounded – it feels like we are burrowing deep into the earth when we write the songs, where we can find meaning in all the roots, soil, bones and buried secrets, and we toss that up into the air like a cloud of dirt with each release. It’s a reminder of what life is really like under the surface.
Interesting that you talk about authoritarian capitalism – it does rather seem to be the future. I’m afraid I have become something of a boring pragmatist in my old age, along the lines of Balthasar Gracian perhaps, and now feel like an observer rather than a participant. What else to do when you are so powerless against the tide? Ostensibly it feels as if we are in liberal democracies, but there seems to be a large group of people who would prefer to live under some kind of monarchy, Tsar or even a cult leader. It’s almost an instinct, like the way colonies of insects behave when they fear an attack – it makes little sense to my mind, but it seems so deeply entrenched, that I sometimes wonder if there is an evolutionary reason for it.
Bretwaldas of Heathen Doom – Beyond The Serpent’s Gaze
Your music from the start was more rooted in doom metal, though there were deviations from this course on Droner. Let’s take the quite avant-garde ‘Whispers of Gods’ as an example. What kind of musical ideas did you want to channel through Bretwaldas Of Heathen Doom back in those years?
We did indeed start as a doom band – both myself and Wartooth were seeing a lot of doom and stoner bands at the time, and coming from Birmingham there is a strong identity with that sound. Also we had many other interests that we thought could be expressed musically– and with the world being much smaller then, we were probably slow to realise that not everyone would be quite as fascinated by ancient history, archaeology, folk myths and battle magic the same way we were – and those interests quickly began to colour what we were doing with our music.
Droner is more experimental only because we hadn’t decided on our parameters at that point. For instance I sang clean on the second track (at the last minute, because Wartooth dropped me in the shit by deciding he couldn’t do it, haha!). People seemed to like that release though. But after that I said that only Wartooth should sing the lead parts and we should strip things back. But we just expected Droner to be an obscure underground recording that people would play when they wanted an escape from the modern world (and we were probably right). Not that we had any idea who our fans were at that point, other than names on an email list. But now thanks to social media we can connect with fans, and see that they are very cool people. Maybe a bit high functioning, and odd, perhaps – but what else would we expect?
Do you mean that the band was rather ignored by people back in those days? I was sure that folk or pagan bands are quite popular still, so was it a problem of marriage between unpopular doom and popular concepts? Though Mael Mordha was well-known to some point.
No, actually 2002-7 was brilliant – we made lots of friends and connections through trading and MySpace, haha – remember that? With hindsight, the problem for us was we really didn’t cope with the social media side of things that started in about 2007 with Facebook. The whole ‘notifications feed’ idea, whereby you get a constant stream of suggestions for things you might like, and of course now look how polarised and divided the world has become as a result, with everyone receiving exactly what they want to see / read / hear. I hated that, and Wartooth hated it even more. So the band was slowly growing up to that point, but kind of drowning, probably because we refused to swim. Lots of our fans have stayed with us though, and that is absolutely amazing after all those years, because you change a lot as you get older.
We did have a folk / pagan element on Droner, but by the second album we only used pagan themes in some of the guitar parts (chains of thirds, basically), rather than anything structural – I had very much mixed feelings about that kind of music, although we continued to trade and sell it. It doesn’t make sense to me that a particular musical genre should have exclusive rights to ideas such as ‘pagan’ or whatever – I’m surprised so many people think that way. And a lot of that music seemed to revolve around identity, and a feeling of it being threatened (with all the movement of people in Europe in the 2000s, I too felt like that, at one point) and of course post-communist countries were very productive in making up for lost time with their pagan stuff, and reconnecting with their pasts, (even if that ‘past’ was actually invented by the communist parties?). I did respect some of the bands who played that pagan stuff though – Heidevolk of Holland were great, Stworz of Poland seems like a good guy to me. Skyforger and Obtest of Latvia. Dalriada from Hungary are all good. I was kind of into Butterfly Temple back in the day, and Gods Tower of Belarus. Hey, its all coming back, and I’m getting all sentimental!
But basically, when it comes down to it, most successful pagan metal seems largely inspired by the Celtic ‘Industry’, and it is difficult to disentangle colonialism from modern interpretations of Celtic-ness, and we’re English, and everyone hates the English apart from a handful of people around the world – a few Americans, a handful of Aussies, the Dutch, Germans and the Finns – so we just accept what we are and get on with it. Being English, noisy and ugly. Ha ha ha!
Which of your old connections with medias and so on were still available for you when Bretwaldas Of Heathen Doom returned?
Very few, apart from lovely loons like Medoller. Like I said, 2010 and 2020 may as well be in different centuries. I don’t even know if you’re supposed to send CDs in to magazines for review anymore – I’m sure they just throw everything in the bin these days anyway? We did move everything over to Bandcamp, that’s saved me a bit of work, and I think it’s the way forward. It seems a good way of spreading the music.
Bretwaldas Of Heathen Doom’s lyrics dealt with paganism and local historical and folklore legends from the start. What attracts you to this topic? How serious are you considering your texts?
Wartooth is an unemployed archaeologist (like most of them) and he loves the martial artifact side of things especially – he has his own forge and makes weapons, which he dreams of using one day in an orgy of bloodlust, if the wrong person knocks on his door. He is also very much interested in the ancestor worship aspect, and perhaps the heroic side of things. We’re both reasonably well read on those subjects, so I understand what he is saying in his lyrics, which is important, I think.
Bretwaldas of Heathen Doom – Raising the Wind
And is it important for you if people get your lyrics as well?
Yes, I think you’re right. Lyrics work on two levels – firstly how the words sound to your ears, or how they create imagery in a musical sense, and secondly their actual meaning when combined, read and considered. Probably most busy people (including myself) pay more attention to the musical sound of the lyrics, and key words. If I like a band I’ll sit down and read them and see what they mean. But this is metal after all, if I ask Wartooth what a song is about he’ll say, ‘oh the usual bollocks’ – I mean it’s not exactly Wordsworth or Pushkin….
Scott, did you keep in touch with pagan bands?
No, not anymore. Some of them are still OK, but the politics of the last few years have exposed a lot of that national romanticism facade, and people who you thought were once erudite and insightful turn out to be about as interesting and sophisticated as my racist old grandmother, shouting ‘bloody wogs!’ at the TV whilst I sat on her lap, bless her soul! But having said that, M.B and I are working on a new Herne album for 2021, which is filed under ‘pagan metal’ I guess. He is German, but it’s ok though….because I know him.
Bretwaldas Of Heathen Doom acts as a duet – Dagfari Wartooth (bass, vocals) and you (drums, guitars, vocals). How do you share your duties in the songwriting?
It’s always the same – Wartooth writes a skeleton song on the bass, and he may or may not have lyrics to go with it. We then steer it one way or the other with drums – I prefer songs to have a clear and distinct rhythm. If it works with bass and drums – if it has power with just those two elements – only then will we carry on with it, and put guitars down. If I think the song is too tense, too relaxed, or just too damn monotonous then I might write an additional section, but usually we can manage the tension in a song just right by changing guitar ideas as we go along. These days, it can take a couple of weeks, or a couple of years to get a song right. Also, I’m more of the ‘tedious details’ guy, and Wartooth is more of the relaxed ‘big picture’ guy. But we balance each other out well I think (even though he is by far the bigger bastard of the two of us, of course).
Did you ever perform Bretwaldas Of Heathen Doom’s songs live?
Not in the past, no, but I think the newer songs could be performed live at some point, because I wrote the parts with just one guitar in mind, like a live band. Also I am rehearsing a lot of the older stuff and rearranging it that way, just in case. We just need a drummer, because I am getting old and tired, with tendon problems, and cannot play as fast as I used to. But I can promise nothing….
Might a setlist composed of slower songs help you with tendon problems?
Hm, I’m just one of those people who just can’t take things steady I guess, that’s why I ended up getting injured! I think the drummer has to be able to hit hard, so you get the sound of the shells, or the music doesn’t sound exciting, so we’d definitely need someone. But I’m hoping to move to a house with a cellar, so I can start practicing each day. At the moment I only play drums about once a year, but I would play all day long if I got the chance. Not sure my neighbours would agree though….
You were talking about a concept album with the working title Looting the Barrows in around 2011. What happened with that project?
Basically, it just didn’t work out, and the DIY recording side of the band was just too time consuming for me at that time. I was probably too upbeat about that release in interviews around that time, when of course I wasn’t in total control of that situation, and was of course punished by life for it, hahaha! We recorded a couple of OK tracks, although you will probably never hear them, and knocked out a few good rehearsal tracks, but in the end we just needed a rest from it I think.
As for the name – ‘Looting the Barrows’ is about grave-robbing (Sutton Hoo burial was the inspiration) and it has a double meaning because at the time we had lots of scumbags stealing all the metalwork from Birmingham and selling it to scrap-metal dealers, who were sending it to China. So you’d walk down the street and fall down a manhole because some bastard had stolen the cover, or come out of your house and your gate had disappeared. And lots of the ironwork in the Midlands is very old and ornate – I’m sure it’s the same in old parts of Russia. And they were just selling it for a fraction of what it was worth and would cost to replace. Anything of any English industrial heritage was being looted and sold just because it was made of metal, and I really hated that. But like I said, either one or the other of us was just not feeling the band at the time. All bands (and people) go through shit periods and 2010-2015 was a pile of shit for Bretwaldas.
Bretwaldas of Heathen Doom – Bones In The Ground
Yes, it reminds me of barbaric methods we witness here in Russia. Officials, jerks and alcoholics do their job trying to steal and sell everything on any terms… But back to the music. The blend of genres you performed in those years was quite individual, and it could draw more attention to the band, but Bretwaldas Of Heathen Doom is an obscure name for many metal fans. Did you try to push it onward harder or find a bigger label to help you with promotion and distribution?
The blend of genres thing was never a big deal for us, we didn’t think we were anything special or anything. I don’t think it’s a case of the world not understanding Bretwaldas, I think it must just be the other way around. No, we never bothered with a label at the time, because we always wanted to do it on our own terms. Honestly, we didn’t think any label was going to be interested anyway. But having said all that, we still knew that we had a good band, and maybe now we are older and have more time (we started the band at possibly the worst possible stage – in our 30s) we can get things moving properly.
Do you plan to celebrate the band’s twentieth anniversary next year?
Jesus Christ has it really been that long? I suppose we’d better get to the tattooists for our celebration inks!
I was expecting that you had prepared an answer about a conceptual double album. May we dare to expect something like this from Bretwaldas Of Heathen Doom soon? How do you see the band’s prospects for 2021?
Only if you write one Aleksey! 🙂 We have new material, and two songs that we didn’t record for ‘Kingdom of Killers’ – maybe an album’s worth altogether – but I think it will probably be another EP, and yes we will definitely release it in 2021. the working title is ‘Tattered Brothers‘. This time we will be playing heavier again, with drop-tuned guitars, because ‘Killers…‘ turned out a bit clean in the mastering, although it has sold better than anything else we’ve done, so I’m not going to knock it. But whatever happens in 2021, it gives Wartooth and I great joy to be a pair of old bastards still releasing music like this to the world. If you are aged thirty or so, you like doom, crust, pagan or traditional metal and so on, and you’re wondering what you could become fifteen to twenty years down the road, then take a look at us and find out!