With this part of the Epic Metal Blog Birthday Special, we enter Albion, the island where Aidan spent the first years of his life. There is hardly a band from there that has made such an impact on us in the past year as the Heathen Kings – both Aidan and I wrote very positive reviews of their first three songs, all of which are based in the wonderful world of JRR Tolkien. I am very happy to present to you and our birthday celebrant an interview with drummer Joel and singer/guitarist Andrew. Have fun reading!
Today, my Epic Metal Blog colleague Aidan celebrates his 19th birthday. What bands were you listening to at that age?
Joel: 19 is quite a long time ago for me, so enjoy it, Aidan! I think I was listening to a lot of Maiden and Sabbath, but aside from that: King Crimson, Jethro Tull, etc., classic prog stuff.
Andrew: At 19 years of age I was actually a big fan of thrash metal, a genre for which I still have some affection – bands like Forbidden, Toxik, Exodus, Megadeth, Testament to name a few.
And what books, movies or series were you most excited about back then? I assume that you will now mention the name JRR Tolkien….
Joel: Yeah, Lord of the Rings always. Honestly, not sure about 19 years old but I love a good sword and sorcery novel of any kind really. Back then though I think I probably spent quite a lot of time trying to read Nietzsche and Camus and thinking I pretty damn cool to boot. I think was also obsessed with the film Withnail & I.
Andrew: I must admit, at 19 I wasn’t so into TV or movies – which is weird because now I am a massive horror movie enthusiast – I was more preoccupied with playing my guitar, drinking, and chasing girls. I do remember enjoying the Doctor Who reboot back then, at least up until David Tennant left the show. Tolkien actually came much earlier for me – when I was a small child, my dad read the entirety of The Hobbit and The Lord Of The Rings trilogy to me over several months of bedtime stories. I revisited the books throughout my childhood and teens and retain a great fondness for all things Middle-Earth – so it’s hardly surprising I ended up playing this kind of music!
As most readers of our blog know, Aidan is my colleague, but first and foremost a great friend. It is indeed music that brought us together. Have you also had many good friendships develop over the years thanks to your shared passion for music?
Joel: Yeah, 90% of my mates are musicians, that’s just how it goes I think. That or my gang of nerds from school who I still play Warhammer with. More Warhammer themed metal needed I say!
Andrew: Nearly all of my close/significant friendships have had something to do with music. In fact, there are musical connections between practically all of the members of Heathen Kings that go back way before the band! So, music is a powerful force between people. Musicians you’ve worked and bonded with become first choice for future projects. Also, fans and gig-goers who regularly come to your shows become friends who you look forward to seeing when you play in a certain town or venue – so, friendships and connections between people are everything in music.
Last year you released three great songs, which Aidan and I also reviewed on our blog. How have the reactions been in general?
Joel: Really really positive, the NWOTHM YouTube Channel is a gem for our kind of music and we have all loved some of the reactions that platform has brought. It’s never going to be that mainstream but it’s great when a select few get the vibe you are going for.
Andrew: Very positive! Those three songs were a labour of love for us over the initial COVID lockdowns, we recorded them as soon as government allowed, and I think people have responded to all the pent-up energy we put into them.
How are Heathen Kings songs created? Is it mainly teamwork in the rehearsal room or how do you do it?
Joel: There are 4 songwriters in the band. To varying standards we all sing and play guitar, so we all tend to demo songs individually then hone in the practice room from there. Pete, our new guitarist, hasn’t had much of a chance on that yet as he only just got here – so hopefully there will be some cracking riffs from him soon.
Andrew: Usually one of us makes a rough demo of the song, and shares it with the group – then, either someone will take the song and run with it to make a completed version, or we will learn the demo as it is, and the song evolves organically in the practice room.
Are you already working on new Heathen Kings songs? And when can we expect your debut album?
Andrew: I can reveal that we already are sitting on quite a lot of songs – easily enough for a second album, and not far off a third! The debut album is already in progress as far as recording goes – we’re just taking a little time right now to focus on gelling the new line-up and also booking some gigs. I am confident it won’t be too long before we have album news for you all, so stay tuned!
What is your opinion about the label NWOTHM?
Joel: Yeah, not a problem for me, I think it’s narrow enough to be meaningful without being so narrow as to shun creativity and variety.
Andrew: It serves its purpose – some people scoff at acronyms like this or at genre names, but no one sat down and invented the label – it just happened, and it offers an easy way to find and identify bands doing something that a lot of people actually want – which is newer, younger bands, playing classic heavy metal music.
With which bands would you like to go on tour together one day? Dreaming is allowed!
Joel: Visigoth, Eternal Champion, Blind Guardian, Iron Maiden (obvious..), Manowar. This list could get long.
Andrew: Obviously the ultimate dream is Iron Maiden or similar, but that might be a little out of reach! Blind Guardian is another. Realistically, we would love to share stages with some of our NWOTHM contemporaries – Traveler, Wytch Hazel, Visigoth.
On which festival would you like to play with Heathen Kings?
Joel: We would all love a spot at KIT one day.
Andrew: Keep It True is the first one that always comes up! I think this would be our audience, 100%. Also Pyrenean Metal Warriors, Bloodstock, Warhorns Festival.
What is the best concert you have seen in your life so far?
Joel: Honestly, I don’t go to enough gigs. Blind Guardian were on fire when I saw them last a few years back in London. Three of us went to see Unto Others last weekend and they absolutely slayed.
Andrew: Andrew: Blind Guardian at Wacken 2016. To be one of 75,000 people all singing “The Bard’s Song“ – incredible.
The year 2022 is still quite young. But were there already releases from this year that could really inspire you? And which record are you particularly looking forward to?
Joel: I’m slow of the mark as I haven’t checked it out yet but I feel like this new Ghost record is a big one for me. I loved everything up to Prequelle… so it could go either way from here, in fact I’m gonna listen now!
Andrew: I’m usually quite slow keeping up on new releases, but from 2022’s crop so far I have enjoyed Sanhedrin’s Lights On and Voivod’s Synchro Anarchy, as well as Ghost’s Impera.
Last question: Which character from The Lord of the Rings do you like the most?
Joel: I think Théoden and Denethor are my faves, they have some rougher edges and flaws that some of the more heroic characters avoid.
Andrew: Samwise – I’m a hobbit at heart.
Thank you very much for your answers! I wish you all the best for the future – as soon as there is new material, Aidan and I will of course be very glad to review it.