(Metal-Archives’ stitching together of “heavy metal, doom, black metal, and crust” is a pretty good signifier that the music of the British band Bretwaldas of Heathen Doom isn’t easy to pigeon-hole (and those multiple labels still don’t go far enough), but it’s a hell of a lot of heavy, sinister, head-bobbing fun. With their new album fairly fresh out, Comrade Aleks decided to reach out, and landed a very engaging discussion with band bassist/vocalist Wartooth.)
The duet of Dagfari Wartooth (bass, vocals) and Sceot Acwealde (aka Arcwielder) (drums, guitars, vocals) keep on playing their pagan hymns for 22 years now. Started in 2001, Bretwaldas of Heathen Doom performs an angry and vivid mix of doom, heavy and crusty pagan metal, and their fourth album Summoning the Gatekeepers was released on the 1st of May (Beltane, you know?).
You may still buy the rest of the CDs small run, ordering it right from the band’s own label Old Man’s Mettle. And here, in this interview with Wartooth, you’ll learn why this album is worthy of your money. And I truly hope you’ll enjoy this authentic album as I did, for the will of the gods is a great power.
Hi Wartooth! How are you doing? What’s going on in Bretwaldas of Heathen Doom’s camp?
Hi Aleks. Thanks for getting in touch and for interesting questions. I don’t know what it’s like where you are, but here, despite the doom-laden portents of imminent environmental, social and moral collapse, we’re still maintaining the traditional brave faces and stiff upper lips. For the Bretwaldas it’s great to finally see Gatekeepers released – it’s been a long time in the making. To finally hold the CD in my hands is the ultimate aim of all the effort (shame it’s not vinyl, but we’re not living in a fairy tale!).
You released Bretwaldas’ albums through King Penda Productions, if not your own Old Man’s Mettle. I believe that your material is catchy and attractive enough to hook some bigger fair underground label with wider distribution at least. Don’t you think it’s time to start knocking harder on labels’ doors? Really, we’ll publish the interview but I suppose that a proper label with wider reach could make more.
Thanks! Apart from a couple of American cassette label releases, I’m not aware of any other label interest. I’m pretty sure we’ve never knocked even lightly on labels’ doors to test the waters. Arcwielder may have some thoughts about this but I find myself being not too concerned.
King Penda was Arcwielder‘s creation, as is Old Man’s Mettle.
Your new album Summoning the Gatekeepers is just released; honestly, I didn’t expect that it would happen so fast, but if I remember correctly, you were going to release it in 2021. What distracted you?
Things move slowly with Bretwaldas, and a 2021 release prediction was obviously a bit too optimistic! Considering Kingdom of Killers came out in 2020, the Gatekeepers release in 2023 feels to me to have come round quickly – even though it’s actually been about three years.
And the original working title Tattered Brothers didn’t work anymore, right?
‘Tattered Brothers’ must have been a working title from Arcwielder’s perspective. In all honesty it’s probably a mishearing of my grumbled vocals at an early demo stage of recording.
Your lyrics tell the stories of ancestor worship and the heroic side of history usually. Did you keep on holding the same concept when you wrote the texts for Summoning the Gatekeepers? Which historic period did you touch in your lyrics?
Some of the lyrics on Gatekeepers are definitely in keeping with the topics you mention. I guess there is a more apocalyptic feeling to some of it – this seems inescapable to me unless I wanted to write about fantasy realms – and it fits in well with the concerns of many other grim folk of the ancient world. Specific mention of historic periods is avoided, though as usual inspiration is drawn from Northen European history and prehistory.
Are you meaning that you’re torn between medieval fantasies and global warming? Maybe it’s time to start another band to reflect on social topics and shout out your anger towards the modern age?
Anything I want to say I feel is compatible within the realms of Bretwaldas. We don’t categorize ourselves as a particular type of themed band – yes we are influenced by the ancient and medieval worlds, but also nature, supernature, and the dilemmas and fate of modern man.
I remember that Scott was unsatisfied with the Kingdom of Slayers sound and wanted to make the next (now current) recording harsher. Did you succeed in this quest for the old school atmosphere?
Arcwielder is a hard man to please! I think the sound on Gatekeepers is an improvement – it seems more lively and hard-hitting, at least on the archaic equipment I play it on. I’m not sure an old school atmosphere is exactly what he was aiming for; of our releases I think Droner and Seven Bloodied Ramparts have that sound as I interpret it.
Hah, okay… How do you interpret “old school atmosphere”? It may be a crude comparison but I used that because it’s about a rawer, harder, and a bit dirtier production and delivery.
Old School Atmosphere – I think you summed it up perfectly – dirt is the key. I think of old, underground punk and metal bands – some of the crustier Darkthrone albums come to mind.
Meanwhile I’ve found a few killer melodic solutions in the new material. Did you find your balance between heavy and some easy-going stuff when you started to write these songs?
Haha – ‘melody’ – not my department! For all Bretwaldas tracks I initially imagine them to be brutally heavy and menacing – this is how I present them to Arcwielder with bass and vocals. It is to his credit that he often sees beyond this primeval display and adds intricacies and arrangements that enhance the songs. For example, the track ‘Ashes’ from Gatekeepers was conceived by me to sound like a crushing doom epic – it turned out to be more controlled and brooding and I am happy and surprised with the result.
What was the most difficult part in the recording of Summoning the Gatekeepers?
For me, the recording process is relatively straightforward. A number of bass and vocal takes over a period of time and then my work is almost done. Arcwielder is a perfectionist who spends a long while arranging songs and coming up with increasingly great drum and guitar parts. He also records, mixes and often masters the material, as well as sorting out covers, printing and other production matters – a multi-talented bastard for sure!
I read biographies of Sentenced and Paradise Lost and it was interesting how these bands – having proper budgets (especially PL of course) – searched for the right studios and sound engineers. Did you ever think to search for help of that kind from outside?
If I thought we needed help achieving the sound we want then maybe we would go down this route. I am happy with the sound on all of our releases – we are rough as fuck around the edges and wouldn’t want to alter that – too clean would be a disaster! Also our budget is tiny so it’s not going to happen anyway.
By the way, are Bretwaldas of Heathen Doom really about the old school ethics? Or is it just a question of perception?
Yes I can see that ‘old school ethics’ mean different things to different people. We are old school in the fact that we steadfastly stick to our guns and follow our own path, both musically and in other ways.
Does the band grant you an opportunity to declare your manifesto or is it rather a form of escapism? Which role does it play today in your life?
Being in a band can give you an opportunity to bellow your missives to the world. Whether anyone’s listening or gives a shit is irrelevant. I don’t see it as escapism, but it is both a laugh and something I value.
Scott said that you’re an unemployed archaeologist and you have your own forge. Do you work there just for your own pleasure preparing for the post-apocalyptic scenario or is it your job now?
Haha – I do work, but not as an archaeologist. I have worked on quite a few archaeological digs in the British Isles of a range of historical and pre-historical periods. I guess the study side of it gave me more insight into these worlds than I would otherwise have. Alas, my forge’s fire is ashen cold, though I often sit in the forge cabin on cold winter days and boil up a pan of soup! I have more than enough axes, swords, etc to equip a small retinue of maniacs.
Sounds promising! It would be a proper Bretwaldas of Heathen Doom merch! By the way, do you have any this time? Patches, t-shirts, deluxe box-set with the entire discography on tapes and limited edition with axes you mentioned?
Haha – a great idea! It would be good to have more merch – we’ve only done one t-shirt and I think two badges. I would personally like to do some patches of our logo as it appeared on the cassette releases.
What are the band’s plans for the rest of 2023?
I am already writing new material and Arcwielder is surprisingly enthusiastic about hearing it. I’ll make him wait for a while – nothing moves quickly in the world of the Bretwaldas.
Then let’s finish the interview on this note. Thank you, Wartooth, Cernnunos speed you on! Would you like to add a few more words of ancient heathen wisdom for our readers?
Thanks again and best wishes Aleks, it’s been fun – I rarely do interviews. Honour the earth, fuck modernity, keep your weapons close and watch the skies!