Bretwaldas of Heathen Doom – An Interview With Wartooth And Acwealde Sceot …   Leave a comment

I hope my previous article made some of you curious about Bretwaldas of Heathen Doom, this British, Mercian band who loves to contaminate Sabbathian doom with raw nasty metal while telling you stories right from very dark ages in the past.

As I was curious myself about some features regarding this somehow obscure band and I was eager to hear the “other bell”, I took some courage and I contacted Bretwaldas’ guys for an interview through label King Penda Productions.

I say “I took some courage” because, folks, this is my first interview ever!!!

I was lucky as Bretwaldas’ guys, Wartooth and Acwealde, are no “grumpy” Brits, but very nice and kind guys indeed. They replied widely and richly to all my questions. I am a rather shy person but  at the end, while going through their answer, well, I felt I would have liked to be near Birmingham, shake their hands and chat on with them over a pint at a pub instead of via e-mail! Cool folks indeed …

Well, here are my questions about music and what’s behind it, and their answers …

Mari  –  Hello Wartooth and Acwealde, thanks for accepting the interview!

Bretwaldas of Heathen Doom is a metal band which is not easy to be tagged, in case one feels the need of it.

Also I must say it is not terribly easy to find some detailed news about Bretwaldas on the net. So I’ll start by asking you the “same old things” to break the ice, i.e., the history of the band and what’s behind it.

How did you start and what got you the push in forging this peculiar music style?

 Acwealde  –  Well, imagine two scruffy metallers with marginalized interests coming together and that explains it. Wartooth and I had known each other for many years (I used to share a house with his older brother) but our paths only crossed as artists in 2001. Around that time the second wave of doom and stoner metal scene was very strong in Birmingham, England, where we live, so we were regularly meeting up at gigs there to see bands like Electric Wizard, Goatsnake, Sloth, and so on. At a time when everyone else was into nu-metal boy bands it was so refreshing to see these old bastards making such an old school noise, and we felt like adding something to that with our first demo ‘The Sleeping Trees Have Eyes’. Our musical style I guess was born of our interests (we both loved history and the dark ages in particular) and we made an effort to do everything the opposite to how people expected – recording everything ourselves to tape, not going for a clean sound, and using guitar effect pedals and lots of duct tape. In the end though, we didn’t have to try too hard….just being ourselves made the sound, which was quite a revelation.

Wartooth  –  Our paths crossed in the late eighties, at a time when there were some interesting developments in underground music – heavy, angry, punk-metal crust (Antisect, early Napalm Death etc) exploded on our doorstep at the Mermaid pub in Birmingham, and we were both there to absorb it’s ferociousness. Before that I’d been into the punk and metal that occasionally infiltrated the charts, and this seemed a natural progression and melding of both – the fact that it had zero mainstream acceptance made it even more appealing. It was years later that we got together to make music – I wasn’t aware of any coherent ‘heathen scene’ at the time, but Acwealde’s SYMBEL project (released on fellow Englishmen FOREFATHER’s label) fascinated and inspired me. At out first rehearsal we unleashed ‘Into The Wychwood’, and haven’t really looked back since.

Mari  – Your musical style seems to have experienced a bit of evolution throughout these years. My impression is that your sound as a whole became more “epic” as of late, although it didn’t loose its basic “raw” and dynamic character that, to me, is a sort of trademark of your sound. Can you tell me about how your style has been changing across the releases?

Acwealde  –  I guess you’re right – our trademark is our ‘rawness’, and that is something that is replicated throughout many doom bands, but also can be found in crust punk, black metal and so on. The challenge is similar to how you wear your clothes – it is difficult to be taken seriously if you are a ‘scruff’, no matter how talented you are. Yet, many untalented people hide behind smart clothes. Over the years we’ve never felt the need to put on a ‘clean suit’ to get our point across, so we will probably always be ‘raw’.

 Wartooth  –   From my point of view there is no conscious ‘progression’. My simple aim is to create heavy, powerful and atmospheric metal. I have various and fluctuating musical inspirations, which means that things don’t always sound the same, but I think as the production and especially the guitars come from Acwealde, he may be better placed to answer this.

 Acwealde  –  As for progression, it was merely changing technology that shaped our sound at first. If my four-track Portastudio hadn’t died we’d have probably recorded 2003’s ‘Droner’ the same way as the demo. As it happened, we recorded the drums at a studio with a very basic set up (to minidisc in fact) and they had all the usual overdone compression and gating that you used to get in those days. We then finished the album on a digital multi-tracker. Having unlimited tracks meant that I could spend a lot of time on the guitar work on ‘Droner’ – the first track ‘Wychwood’ has ten guitar tracks on it! It also meant that we could be more experimental, using flanging and delay effects. We were in a dark, black-metal hawkwind zone at the time – obsessed with forests, weapons, ale and battle magic. It was exactly what we wanted to do, and we’re proud of it.

On the second album ‘Battle Staffs in the Mushroom Woods’ we decided to limit ourselves to just two rhythm guitars and a lead, and some simple reverb effects. Although the songs were written with a heavy ‘St Vitus’ guitar sound in mind, we actually scrapped all of those tracks and re-recorded with a thinner, lonely tone. The drum kit had just one rack tom and a floor tom, and was recorded with four vocal microphones. We really came to like this stripped down sound, because it forces you to write interesting parts, and play in an inventive way. The album was very well received, despite us not really promoting it at all, and still sells well as more and more people get to hear it.

As for the third album Seven Bloodied Ramparts, it is perhaps worth mentioning our writing style. Wartooth writes bass lines, and I build the music around them. He has no musical training, and refuses to learn, so there is no negotiation with him. It’s a good system actually. The songs on the third album became more epic because he wrote slower songs. This changed the way we produced the album sound, so the result is a more epic release. Also, a lot of the busy guitar parts we wrote for it, I took out again. Sometimes it’s what you don’t play that’s important. We kept the same instrumentation with ‘Ramparts’ as the second album, but concentrated on getting an even more old school sound – with drums that went ‘thump’ rather than ‘tick’, a clean and low bass, and a more traditional guitar tone. There’s no right way of doing things though – it’s a good idea to change the sound with each album I think, otherwise you’re just diluting the effect of the last recording you did.

Mari  –   Wow, thanks for the details about the albums. It was exactly what I hoped to hear, i.e. some detailed, even technical insights about how your music has been growing and is done. I find it very interesting and, well, charming for those like me who love music but are not musicians themselves.

So, why didn’t Bretwaldas of Heathen Doom get involved in any live activity?

Is it a matter of logistical difficulties, e.g., looking for session musicians, or everyday’s life struggle leaving not much time left for any extra touring? Or are there other reasons?

Wartooth  –  It’s a bit of both to be honest. To find one person who truly shares and enhances my ideas is amazing enough – there is little likelihood of finding any others. In some ways I would like to play live….the material is certainly strong enough, but it’s unlikely unless we can clone Acwealde to play drums and guitars at the same time.

Acwealde  –  The band was set up as a studio project so it has never really been an issue, but we do record with something of a live sound, so in that respect we will always sound like we do when we rehearse. Yes, we have been asked about playing live before and it is unfortunate that there are only two of us, as we have had to turn down what most bands would consider tempting offers.

Mari  –  I certainly would love to see you guys playing live, also because, as you said, one can get the “fresh” feeling of it right from your studio albums.

Now let’s move to the other, cultural sources of your inspiration.

Heathenism is somehow flowing through much of the underground metal scene, and especially through extreme metal. Also in Italy we have seveal metal bands lead by this type of concept and group of beliefs. In order to express your feelings and to vehicle your beliefs you adopted traditional, although “contaminated”, heavy doom metal, instead of other “usual” genres such as viking/black or power metal. Why?

Acwealde  –  The answer is simple – those genres are a symptom of heathenism, not the creators of it. We find that our music expresses those ideas just as well.

Wartooth  –  You can only play what feels right. My influences come from Amebix, Motorhead, Sabbath etc. We try and avoid any ‘fantasy’ type feeling in our music – I am not writing about Dungeons and Dragons, but about ancient truths and dark reality. I have nothing against power metal and the like, but it does not come from the soul.

Mari  –  How is the relationship between Bretwaldas of Heathen Doom and Acwealde’s other musical projects?

Acwealde  –  Music is full time for me, so I work on those projects with other people during quiet periods whilst I’m waiting for Wartooth to come up with his ideas.

Mari  –  Label King Penda Productions is strongly “specialized” towards heathenism. Are you involved directly in the label? If so, are you finding a good response about diffusion of heathen metal in spite of a rather limited promotional activity?

Acwealde  – We are both involved in the label, yes – it would not be ideal for us to be signed to someone else with all the control. The music we make still gets a good reception throughout the world, despite the setback of downloading and blogs, which hit a lot of small labels like King Penda hard. The role of promotion has also changed in the last couple of years. It used to be the case that if you didn’t promote, you’d stay in the same place, which suited us, but nowadays if you don’t promote, you sink without a trace, as everybody has got used to things being extremely easy to get hold of. However, if you want to be a musician these days, those are the terms, and we still want to make music.

Mari  –  You have been active for basically ten years. What are the most important things that convinced you to go on with this activity?

Acwealde  –  Unlike most popular culture, which venerates youth and then leaves its adherents trying to pathetically cling to it as it slips away, our music and outlook is all about growing old and not giving a fuck…we’ll go on for another twenty, no problem.

Wartooth  –  It is the dynamic between us that makes this worthwhile, and the music is a product of that. We both know what works – there is no pressure, no egos. We take our time.

Mari  –  Well, thanks, guys! I think that, apart from its implications for your music, here you are expressing the pillars of a hell of a great philosophy of life!

Life … Someone may find this interest on the ancient past of one’s own territory a bit odd, like a hobby for people who can’t cope with present-day life and want to escape in the past which may seem almost fantastic or unreal.

I don’t know if this is the case for you, but what you and some other pagan metal bands do make me remember about some typical characters living in basically all the Italian villages, like school teachers and librarians with deep historical interest and untiringly involved in unearthing the local, variably obscure hystorical heritage.

So do you see yourselves as one of those local, but precious contributors?

Wartooth  –  When society is as sick as it is today, there is nothing wrong with trying to withdraw from it – however, that is not necessarily what we’re about. Music has always been about escapism to some extent – it’s just broadening one’s horizons. We both live close to a big city – it has it’s positives and negatives. Birmingham is the home of metal for a reason – come and live here – you would soon understand!! We are interested in culture, history etc., of our region and elsewhere, instead of just a theoretical interest in a long-dead age, the past is connected to us by a thread which cannot be severed – you can choose to study its lessons and feel its vitality or ignore it completely.

Acwealde  –  Countries and borders are somewhat artificial (although being surrounded by water helps) and I agree it is often the local cultures that tell us the most about the people living there. I know that Italy has deep and very different historical cultures across its landmass  (didn’t it only get one national language in the 1950s?). As for research, we spent a lot of time before the internet became big ordering obscure books from libraries, ringing people up and trying to interview them, and writing up reports on Iron Age hillforts etc. Wartooth used to be an archaeologist but found it difficult to make a living from it. When I get old (or rather, ‘really old’) I will probably devote myself to writing and yes, no doubt I’ll be delving into some obscure local histories.

Mari  –  Sure, Italy is a patchwork of very different cultural realities. Also, in Italy we are submerged with historical heritage, classical heritage, big things. But sometimes the local history and features of the territory are little known and most of the local people are not interested, as soon as they get diverted from the mainstream mass TV culture organizing their lives and (many) fake needs. But when they eventually happen to discover about their local past, you can really see wonder!

In this respect, I happened to read that in recent years the archaeological departments in UK have been devoting more and more efforts in applying scientific methods to uncover vestiges of the most ancient hystorical communities right on the British Isles, beside or instead of working in the “same old” classical hystorical Mediterranean locations. I think it’s very interesting and, well, a due effort to build up a more balanced view of what British and, in general, European history has been in the darkest centuries. What do you think?

Wartooth  –  For a long time there was a bias in favour of the ‘classical’ cultures – mainly because their imprint remains in stone, and their city grids imposed on the landscape. Less pompous northern Europeans chose to live in a more organic way, leaving less of a mess in their wake – wood and turf, flesh and bone slowly rotting back down into the earth. It is a harder job to find and interpret this evidence, but it can be done. The surviving metalwork from the ‘dark ages’, such as the Staffordshire Hoard, shows the technical capabilities of these peoples.

Mari  –  So I see that you are actively involved in such recover of the British culture alternative to the Roman (and then Chistian) imprint. Also I read about your interaction with non-musical cultural organizations, e.g. like the one devoted to the study and the recover of traditional martial arts, as reported on the label’s website.

Acwealde  –   I used to put a lot of effort into historical reenactment of the dark age period, but decided a few years ago that I was spreading myself too thinly, and chose to concentrate on music and writing instead. Wartooth spends more time on the historical side of things now. The traditional martial arts interviews were very interesting for us, and King Penda will interview other organizations and individuals in the future.

Mari  –  Let’s go back to the tunes, then. There are some encouraging news about you being at work on a new release. Can you reveal something more than what reported on the “news” section of the label? Will something in your style be changed?

Acwealde  –  The release ‘Looting the Barrows’ is conceptually concerned with the way in which the heritage is vanishing from our lands, as less and less people are around to care. We have altered the recording process for a slightly different sound, but what I can say is it is continues our path of mixing the dirtiness of crust punk and the sombreness and harmonic melancholy of blackened doom, all of which is informed by Wartooth’s extensive NWOBHM vinyl collection. We don’t think our fans will be disappointed!

Mari –  And I myself can’t wait for the new album to be out! Thanks so much, it was a pleasure to interact with you! All hail and doom on!

Interview by Marilena Moroni (Mari)

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Posted February 27, 2011 by doommantia in Bretwaldas of Heathen Doom

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