(Comrade Aleks continues an ongoing series of interviews of black metal bands in this discussion with guitarist Azrael of the English black metal band Heathen Deity.)
In order to support the underground Black Metal scene as well as the war against Christianity (if you don’t mind) we offer you this in-depth interview with Heathen Deity, whose long-awaited debut album True English Black Metal was finally out in June 2021. Heathen Deity was active for six years from 1998 to 2004 and then after a ten-year-long break its members re-united in order to deal with deeds started long ago. Thus, after the live album Nottingham Infernal (2019) and The Damnation Tapes compilation (2020) they finally have reached the point when the work was right and all material properly recorded.
Here’s the detailed story of True English Black Metal with an in-depth look at Deity’s cult daily life. The band’s original guitarist Azrael channels Deity’s will patiently and consistently.
Hail Azrael! This year is marked with release of the band’s “debut” full-length True English Black Metal, and I wonder what happened that after all these years you found time to gather and engrave these twelve tracks as one solid album? What finally drove you to record the album?
Hails! This album has been a long time coming to say the least. It is common knowledge to anyone who follows Heathen Deity that after our final show in 2004 in London, England we went into a hiatus period due to personal life-changing choices of certain members of the band, myself included. At that time the future of the band was unknown to a certain point of view. Efforts were made by Dagon to inject new souls into the lineup but nothing ever worked out. so everything was put on an indefinite hold.
That doesn’t mean nothing was happening though, as I was still very much in contact with Dagon and continued to work on the several songs we had written for a release, and developed those ideas further over the years far past the point of what we were playing live in the early 2000s. What was driving us or myself in particular is the fact that I believed in those songs and something had to happen with them, whether we were a live band or not. After our rebirth in 2016 that drive became a form of determination that this album would be recorded.
Some of these songs were composed back in the early 00’s, and I believe that its new versions differ a lot from your original ideas. How far did you go from those sketches you had back then?
Those early version of the songs that appear on True English Black Metal were all in the basic state really. The very core of what those songs were back then is still there, however. Take for instance the track “For the Glory of Satan” from our 2002 EP of the same name: the song is exactly the same really, with a couple of riffs that may have been tweaked for the greater good of the song. With other songs some have been rearranged or had sections totally re-envisioned and rewritten as we weren’t satisfied with how it was originally. “Flames of the Gathering Darkness” is a good example of this, especially how the song begins and opens up. Everything has been very deliberate and done how we wanted it to be.
The album was released by Cult Never Dies, which nowadays seems to be an absolute institution of black metal in the UK and probably even gives more opportunities than well-known “old” labels. How effectively do you interact with Dayal? Did you have an agreement on all terms of the release?
Dagon has handled all the label stuff with both Cult Never Dies and Death Kvlt Productions. All the agreements and terms were all decided amongst themselves. I believe Dayal and Dagon speak on a daily basis furthering what we are doing. Everything is then related back to the rest of us and we go from there. My main concern with this band is the music and what our output actually is from an artistic point of view.
It sounds like you aren’t much interested in the band’s promotion and spreading the Word. Are you just ok with the way things go? Did you ever want to make Heathen Deity a bigger band?
On the contrary, in terms of promotion we all have a hand in the promotion of the band and the art we put out into the world. I was commenting solely on the notion of dealing with labels and the deals and opportunities that are presented to us. We see no reason for everyone in the band to talk to the labels or gig promoters and think it is less chaotic and less confusing if one person deals with the interaction and communication between the labels, promoters and ourselves. There is more focus in the discussions that way and also with things being dealt with that way it is then perfectly clear what we want as a band from these people and what we have spoken about in regards to any deal or any ideas we have formulated for our art.
As far as Heathen Deity being a big or bigger band, that isn’t something we worry about. We set out to play music for ourselves in the begining, to play music we wanted to listen to. I don’t think that outlook has changed and is still true to a certain degree, especially as far as I am concerned. Obviously things have gone pretty well for us so far, what with the release of the album True English Black Metal and the way it has been received. We are feeling great about that, but first and foremost we are doing this for ourselves with no compromise to please anyone else. Everything after that is a bonus.
I certainly have no visions of grandur or any rock star complexes, or any desire to be so. We just do what we do and will continue along this path we have forged for ourselves. We pay little attention to what other bands are doing and how they are doing in terms of popularity. We are in competition with nobody but ourselves, to be the best we can be.
Azrael, you play in a few more bands, like Frosten, Helvellyn, Skiddaw, Torver… correct me if I’ve skipped some important name. And besides that you’ve left a few bands some time ago. What drives you to spend so much time on black metal? Can you really control this urge?
Outside of Heathen Deity I have only formed a couple of bands myself. The first of these is a band called Ethereal Forest, which was originally going to be a dark folk or acoustic project. That idea changed pretty quickly when the drummer of Heathen Deity at the time called Sathan joined the band. From that moment it became a Black Metal entity. The output from Ethereal Forest culminated in the release of one demo and one full-length album before falling silent. It was that silence that led me to eventually form Frosten in 2019, and doing that by myself and on my own terms. My own personal expression if you will. The other bands I am involved with, Thy Dying Light, Skiddaw, Nefarious Dusk, Torver, etc., I was invited to be a part of. I work within those bands in whatever situation comes along and in a way I fit in the best.
Black Metal is where my heart lies and has for a very long time. What truly drives me within this art form is my total belief and faith in it. I feel it is an honest expression and that alone makes me want to do and be part of this style of music. The atmosphere and feelings it creates within me are just too hard to resist. As I have said before, I have, and still do, create other genres of music. I have a few ambient and dungeon synth projects that I also create and express myself with, but nothing is more pure and honest than Black Metal.
Heathen Deity – True English Black Metal
Which band is your priority nowadays? Or do you share the same amount of energy for each of them?
Heathen Deity is the main priority. That has never really changed, but of course I put the same drive, passion and energy into every band or project I have ever been involved in. You either do something 100% or not at all. That is a rule and a creed I have always lived by in terms of my own art or even dealing with someone else’s art and ideas. All or nothing. There is absolutely no other way.
You point to your “true” attitude towards black metal even in the album’s title, and that may disillusion listeners as your stuff is quite diverse, and the expected uncompromising black metal attacks are balanced with slower pieces (‘For the Glory of Satan’) or elegant acoustic harmonies (‘The Shards of Winter’). So what does the “true” aspect mean for you nowadays? Does it play the same role for you as the “true” attitude of those bands from early ’90s?
I think the term “True” is totally misunderstood if I am honest. A lot of people think it is a term that describes the actual sound and theme or even the feel of Black Metal. So, if a band such as Gorgoroth is true, by their logic bands like Emperor, Burzum, Mysticum, Abigor, early Ulver, etc., are untrue?? I think the Black Metal sound is diverse and so are the lyrical themes to a certain point, and always has been. I believe trueness is more about a band’s conviction and their belief in what they are doing and what they really and honestly stand for.
Take our album title for instance, True English Black Metal. It isn’t describing the sound of Heathen Deity but moreso what we actually are and where we stand. “True”, we believe in what we are doing 1000% and will ultimately stand our ground for our art and what we do no matter what, with no compromise. We do what we want on our own terms and nobody else’s. Nobody else matters when it comes down to what we are doing and what we are about and where we decide to take our art and expression. “English”, it goes without saying we are an English band. Of course we have our influences and wear them on our sleeves and also like everyone else we use them. Of course you will find some Scandinavian type of riffs in our art; we never intended to or even try to reinvent the wheel. Just do what we believe in and play a particular style of music we want to hear. “Black Metal”, yes, we play Black Metal. The album title is our statement that describes Heathen Deity and what we are about. No lies or bullshit. No hidden agendas or anything like that. Everything we are about is right there in black and white before your eyes.
In addition to the Scandinavian influences, the press-kit refers to “the clean guitar passages and embittered atmospheres long-established in British black metal”. Do you see these as general features of true English black metal? What else completes Heathen Deity’s authentic sound?
We like to present different facades and have different atmospheres within our songs. This includes clean guitar passages, and the use of acoustic guitars also. It is just something we have always done. I personally have an interest in other genres of music, traditional folk music, prog rock, etc., outside of Black Metal, and some of that interest inspires some of the clean guitar moments within our own art. We have a tradition from the early days to include a full acoustic song within our releases, something I don’t think will ever change as it is something we like to do.
I do think some of the British bands do think about the aesthetics of their sound and some of them, like us, use the clean/acoustic side of things to add more flesh to their palette. I’m not sure if it is truly a British thing as some of the Scandinavian bands have done this also in the past, but a lot of people say they find the British bands touch on it a bit more. As for our “authentic sound”, we just do what we do and this is just how we write and play.
Can you name a few more bands that you could add to the True English Black Metal circle?
I wouldn’t like to say which other bands would belong in that circle as I wouldn’t want to speak on their behalf or add them against their will. The UK scene is extremely diverse with so many different-sounding bands.
Which qualities do you value in black metal? Do you search for extremity, for lyrics or messages delivered by like-minded musicians, or for something else?
Atmosphere and feeling above everything. Music and art that is made from the heart that is sincere. That is what I look for and all I ever want from any band I happen to listen to.
Which band embodies the perfect balance between these values – atmosphere and feeling?
There are many from the early ’90s Black Metal scene that fit in with those values. Burzum immediately springs to mind. Say and think what you will about the person behind that band, but the musical output is absolutely perfection in terms of Black Metal. Darkthrone is another fine example of perfect Black Metal, especially the “Unholy Trinity” albums they made in the early ’90s. Both Marduk and Gorgoroth also are perfect in my eyes. Outside of Scandinavia I look toward bands such as Judas Iscariot, Nargaroth, Dødsferd and bands like that. From recent times I have really been liking the releases from Mare and Djevel. As I said, there are many bands out in the world making great art. I think it comes down to what an individual person’s taste is, what they like, and what they want to get out of the music they listen to.
The band’s name points toward pagan ideology, but some of your songs deal with “Satanic images”. Isn’t there some contradiction? Does Satan’s image personify for you the same qualities as a heathen creed may offer or is it something different?
The catholics and the church used to brand anyone who didn’t follow or have faith in god as a heathen. The same as being called an infidel. It was intended as an insult to such people. To mark them out as people not with god, or as non-believers if you will. Our name is really open to interpretation to a point, but it is an anti-religious statement on our behalf. Obviously the term deity means god… or a god. So our name is referring to a god or something with authority but that isn’t the christian god. It could mean Satan, it could be something else.
And as we touch on Satanic themes… there’s LaVey-styled satanism on the verge of practical consumerism and hedonism, there’s satanism mixed with the vibe of occultism, there’s so called “romantic satanism”, and probably other ones exist as well. Which way did you choose?
You would have to ask Dagon about that. I come from an anti-religious stance within this band but Dagon is the lyricist and the Satanist of the band. I wouldn’t like to answer for him.
Okay… We discussed similar question with Blackdeath’s members a few weeks ago, but I’d like to ask it of you as well: Black Metal represents an opposition towards “organized” / ”monotheistic” religion (well, Christianity most of the time). And some bands set themselves on the side of rational thinking people standing against mindless religious flock. And yet they actively (sometimes seriously) use symbols born from Christian beliefs like the Devil, Hell, etc. Can we say that there’s a place for the rational sense in Black Metal or is it a pure channeling of abstract chaotic / emotional ideas with no certain goals to rush to? Is there any place for an atheistic position amongst the black metal crowd, or is an overindulgence in the standard number of symbols and images necessary?
The idea and notion of the devil and hell, or even more so the underworld, is far older than Christianity. Ancient civilizations such as Ancient Egypt or Temet as it was once known have notions of deities such as Set and Apep/Apopis who had very much similar notions to the christian idea of Satan. Babylonian theology also had its fair share of devils and an underworld/hell that predates Christianity. Nothing was born from Christianity except stolen ideas, borrowed concepts, and lies.
I think Black Metal does present emotional ideas and feelings against Christianity and organised religion but with good reasons that are obvious in this day and age and don’t really need to be questioned. On the subject of any band using sigils and symbols within their aesthetic, that is their choice and their choice alone. The same goes for Heathen Deity and the way we present ourselves. Whether the listener buys into a concept any band presents or not is their own choice.
We used to see black metal as an anticlerical protest, but how does it work from your point of view? Obviously it can’t change the state of affairs as we see, so what’s it about? A form of art? A method to speak out yourself?
Black Metal is both, a work of art and also a method to speak out or protest. To express your own feelings and the way you think about things and how they affect you as a person. Of course you are right, what we say will never ever change the world, but if it makes just one person question things, their life, religion, whatever, and think, then that to me is a victory.
How does performing black metal in such scale on a regular basis affect you as a person?
The live performance itself opens up many emotional feelings for me. It is hard to describe but I lose myself in the music and the aesthetic of what we are doing and creating. I feel free from the restraints of normal dull life, even if it’s just for a moment in time. That being said, I get the exact same feelings when working on the music and recording in the studio. After the performance I feel empowered and accomplished.
Each “true” form of metal needs an opposition. Correct me if I’m wrong and it works another way. Do you see a problem in the growing popularity of post-black metal bands, its “shoegazing” forms and… and what else has happened there?
I have no opinion really on Post Black Metal, but then apart from Alcest from France I have not really given it any thought or time. If I listen to something and I like it then it’s fine with me. If I don’t like it then I move on. That goes with any genre of music or any form of art — if I don’t like something I move on and don’t waste any more time on it. Whatever is happening out there it has no baring on Heathen Deity or any other music any of us may be involved with.
How do you see the purposes of Heathen Deity’s live gigs? Did you ever think to return the good old cattle blood or acts of self-mutilation to black metal shows? How do you think about that – are such things possible today or do bands have to be tolerant and politically correct to avoid “sharp attacks” which may hurt somebody’s feelings?
There are still bands out there doing all that stuff but it isn’t really something we need to do. We are traditional in the sense that we still wear corpse paint and spikes and have done so since we started playing live in the late ’90s, but our biggest expression on stage is the actual music we present to our audience. We have no need to be carving ourselves up on stage. As far as being politically correct that isn’t something we worry about too much as our audiences know only too well.
How was that gig with Abduction you had two weeks ago organized? What is it like to play live during this quarantine which we seem to be used to?
The gig in Derby, England with Abduction and Devastator was great and such a breath of fresh air after not being able to do anything for the past two years because of the covid situation. Before the day of the concert we weren’t even sure if we would have much of a crowd to play to, as some people all over the world are still apprehensive about going to places and socialising live as we all did before the pandemic. But alas, the people came and all the bands put on a great show as far as I am concerned. It was a special night and a nice return to the stage.
What’s your plan concerning the next full-length album? Do you feel enough motivation now after so much positive feedback to return to composing and recording new True English Black Metal anthems again?
The feedback of the album True English Black Metal has been phenomenal, and although we are extremely grateful for the words said about us we try not to dwell on the thoughts of others too much. If we did that we would stagnate and not try and be better. As I mentioned, we create out art for ourselves first and foremost. If we are content with what we have created then that is enough. If anyone else likes what we do then that is a great bonus and we salute those who do give the band the time of day and show support.
We have already begun work on the new album and at this time it is moving along well. Most of the writing is already complete and recording has begun. It will be a shorter run-time this time round. The first album had to be the way it was because we had so much material we needed to put on that album to complete and close an era of the band. Some would say the run-time is too long, but we disagree and would say it is perfect and was very deliberate.
When this new album will see the light of day we do not know. We will work on it until we are satisfied with the final result. I can promise you though it will not be another 20-year wait.
Thanks for you patience Azrael! Now our readers know more about True English Black Metal. Or not? Did we skip something?
Thank you for this opportunity for me to say a few words. We hope people will give our album True English Black Metal an honest chance and maybe they will find something there that appeals to them. That album has been a life’s work for us but we have overcome all obstacles and problems and completed what we set out to accomplish. I can assure you that the next one won’t be in another 20 years time as we have already started to write and record our next chapter.
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