Heaven Shall Burn’s latest record ‘Antigone’ (Century Media), named after Sophocles’ brilliantly thought-provoking Greek tragedy, is full of socio-political commentary. Though it’s not so much a concept album, there is a unifying thread throughout the LP, as guitarist/lyricist Maik explains, “The basic idea was to have some stories about freedom-fighters, such as Nelson Mandela…or Victor Jara…and people who dedicated their whole lives to fight for freedom. We tried to extract some of their thoughts and their ideals, and tried to bring them to today’s life.” And when hearing this explanation, it’s obvious why the name ‘Antigone’ fits the album so well, as she is a symbol of resistance, questioning authority, and rising up against and defying a despot in the name of one’s ideals and beliefs. A very heroic character, indeed.

From the record, Maik does have a couple songs he feels stand out among the rest. Lyrically, he’s partial to the first “real” track of the album, “The Weapon They Fear”, a song about ‘60’s/’70’s Chilean singer/political dissident and eventual political prisoner, Victor Jara, a man with such strong convictions only a firing squad could silence. And as for the music end, he believes the greatest moments on the album are the more “classical, very calm, but also very emotional” intros and outros, composed by Icelandic multi-instrumentalist Olafur Arnalds (of Soulfire). And Maik couldn’t be more correct in saying these classical, extremely light and moving interludes “add some really cool contrast to the actually pretty aggressive music on the rest of the CD.” According to Maik, the German band – also featuring guitarist Patrick, bassist Eric, vocalist Marcus, and drummer Matthias – always incorporated this contrast, but have never utilized classical influences written just for them before.

So other than the use of classical elements, what else differentiates Heaven Shall Burn from the hordes of other bands fusing metal and hardcore into one tight package? The guitarist quickly replies, humbly, with a disclaimer: “We’re not so arrogant to think we’re so different, but I think one big difference is we’re from Europe and we’re maybe not influenced so much by Swedish metal bands…[but rather] bands like Kreator, but of course we also like bands such as In Flames.” He goes on to say that in addition, they have a more socio-political leaning than other metalcore bands, citing one of his main influences – Earth Crisis. And the lyrics are equally important as the music, Maik adamantly makes clear. “People should know Heaven Shall Burn isn’t only about music or an image or about having fun; we really wanna spread the message and it means a lot to us if people ask about the lyrics. We don’t wanna be the second Rage Against the Machine,” he jokes, “but I think there should be more political bands [like Napalm Death and Kreator], and we try to be one more political band.”

As apparent from the description of the album and its revolving around “freedom-fighters,” central to the band is spreading tolerance and communicating the importance of “[keeping] your personal freedom. With all the compromises we have to do day-in/day-out, at least keep your head free and your thoughts, and to ALWAYS question authority and people who give you orders.” Not a preacher by any means, when Maik writes his lyrics, he’s just trying to get people to think and not be “faceless slaves.” Yet for all his intelligent, politically-charged lyrics (and his hatred of emo – “Look at all those emo bands, they’re like 35-year-old guys singing about problems with their fathers and their girlfriends and it’s hilarious,” he says with a laugh. But more seriously adds, “There’s so many people that they could tell so much – there’s so many kids looking up to them – and all they tell them is that life sucks”), he still has a hankering for Cannibal Corpse and Black Sabbath, philosophizing that lyrics about mass murder are just as important as socio-political subject matter.

On the musical front, the guitarist declares they don’t think too much about what style they play. Basically, it just comes out naturally. “It’s a feeling,” he states simply. Happy with their previous album, 2002’s ‘Whatever It May Take’, the guys didn’t change their songwriting greatly, “at least not in a conscious way,” he says. “We used the same ingredients, like nice melodies to carry our messages and the choruses really well, as well as good mosh parts.” And their music, much of it aggressive and fierce, complements the lyrical subject matter wonderfully. They’re not singing about “happy” things, and as a result, the music isn’t pretty (though those classical parts are – and herein lies the idea of contrast…). Maik agrees: “I think you should hear if somebody is pissed off,” continuing, “I could never write about things that make me angry and things I wanna change and things I wanna fight against and I wanna go out on the streets and demonstrate against, I could never compress it into a classical composition or an emo CD or something like that.” And truly, would the songs’ messages even be conveyed to full effect that way – lacking an angry, heavy edge? I think not. How many ska bands with their predominantly fun, happy sound, do you see decrying the evils of the world? Anyway, he concludes, “It’s wasted energy just to sing about…emo stuff and all that. To me, the lyrics and the music is a way for me to get rid of my aggression and to scream out in the world what I don’t like. I think that emo stuff is just image bullshit.”

Heaven Shall Burn have toured all over, including Europe AND South America (twice!). Playing Chile was especially important to Maik, as he’s immersed in Chile’s history and thought it great to be able to see things he’d written about. But for all their traveling, they’ve yet to hit U.S. shores. However, the guitarist makes it clear it’s one of their top priorities: “There is heavy planning going on about the tour in [the] U.S. because we really have to come over there. We get tons of e-mails,” he discloses, “and really cool offers, but it’s also a problem for us ‘cause we’re all in university studying,” making it quite hard for the guys to find time to do an extensive tour here. Hopefully Maik is right when he surmises it could happen this fall, for he gives good reasons to check out the band live: “If we’re onstage, people can be sure we really give 120 percent. It really comes from our hearts and it’s no job or [anything],” he says. “We just do it because we wanna move something and because we wanna kick some asses.” They also are adept at transferring this feeling to the crowd, and “I really hope we can do that in the U.S. as well,” he concludes.

Interview date: Jul 26, 2004

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