- Good morning to the misty streets of Birmingham. What is life like in Britain’s second largest city?
Good morning Andreas. It’s ok here at the moment actually – very quiet. The virus has halved the amount of traffic on the roads. Things are changing daily though, of course. As for Birmingham, well it is famous for being an ugly city, ( the motorway goes through the worst bit, but it’s ok really ) so most travellers avoid it. Historically it is lots of little villages linked by the old seventeenth-century trades in guns and sword-making, that got swallowed up in industrialisation and 1960s brutalist concrete. Like most of the UK cities outside London, after 10 years of austerity, it is pretty much lawless. Standards are slowly becoming lower everywhere, and things are generally in decline. Yet, there is an honesty about the place. It still runs OK, and people are friendly and polite to each other. Also there are lots of pubs, and lots of beers, and there is quick access to some good countryside. You would have a good time if you came here and drank some good ales, I’m sure. But we have to get Covid out of the way first, and if it’s anything like the pandemic 100 years ago, that’s going to be like 2022 before we’re back to normal, plus the extra complication of Brexit. So let’s look forward to the ‘roaring 20s’.
- »Bretwaldas of heathen Doom« – I don’t know a band name that would be so out of date and that causes disturbances just by saying it. Please explain the background and / or the origins of BoHD to our readers.
When we started, we felt we had created music that was dark, heavy and dirty, but it had a sense of majesty about it. So, we went for a long name that would communicate this, even if it sounded ridiculous. In fact, if it filtered people out, even better.
‘Bretwaldas’ means ‘king’ in old English / AngloSaxon. Both Wartooth and myself were interested in that period, spending our days doing stupid reenactment projects, accidentally setting things on fire with arcwelders and so on, and we kept coming back to it as a bandname. In fact, Wartooth carried on doing it over the years – he has a forge at home, and makes his own stuff. I can’t remember exactly how we arrived at the ‘of Heathen Doom bit’ – we probably wrote out lots of different extrapolations, and then threw a dart at the paper, or something – but I remember thinking it described the music well. Pagan metal was semi-important to us at the time ( not so much these days ), so that partly explains the ‘heathen’ bit, and the ‘doom’ bit was self explanatory. Well, what we called doom, anyway…
I also remember search engines weren’t so sophisticated in 2002, so if you were a new band and you wanted to be found, something that stuck out was useful.
- Your just released EP “Kingdom of Killers” really blew me away. Guitars that sound like dungeons, a darkly grooving bass, a drum sound that makes every beer bottle open by itself and a voice, somewhere between Lemmy, Nocturno Culto and Sverre Stokland. Did I forget to mention something?
I’m glad to hear it, and those are some very good analogies, thank you. I think ‘Killers…’ is perfect for 2020 – nothing is the same as it was ten years ago when we released ‘Seven Bloodied Ramparts’. Wartooth wrote some catchy basslines and we put four of them on this EP – I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry when he played them because they were really 80s heavy metal, but I knew I could layer something really good on them. It took me a while though – you know those bumpers stickers they have in the bible belt that say ‘What would Jesus do?’ Well, I had to call upon the spirits of Fast Eddie Clark and Mark Shelton for inspiration with riffing and solos, and think ‘well, what would they do?’. As for drums, on a couple of the songs I told Wartooth he was a real bastard for playing too many mid-paced parts, and that I would have no option but to play like Frank Beard of ZZ Top, but everything turned out good in the end – I just put more effort into the guitars. Yeah, Wartooth has a great voice – if he wasn’t so stubborn and difficult to work with, he could probably join a proper band. But they would kick him out in five minutes, and he would be back in Bretwaldas, grumbling at me, and we would just have to make another song about how angry he was…
- I have an increasingly sad feeling that Metal is becoming more and more popular with the mainstream and is about to lose its soul. Fortunately, there have always been exceptions that continue to carry the torch of rebellion and are an irritation for high-gloss products. For me, Bretwaldas are very clearly one of these exceptions. How do you comment this development (metal-cruises, mega-festivals and Embarrassments like Sabaton and so on)?
Don’t you have heavy metal in the pop charts in Gemany? Next to the schlager? 😉 It might be different in mainland Europe, you have those huge festivals – it’s not like that so much here in the UK. We just have Bloodstock and Download, which are fairly medium sized festivals for youngsters getting into metal, with all their pentagram hoodies, big platform boots, etc… But sometimes it’s the only way to see a band. Those big festivals like Wacken are at least honest about what they are, I suppose. And I guess, sometimes it’s good to stand in a really big crowd watching a big band, once, or maybe twice, in your life. Also, the distinction is blurred these days, as many times bands will play at those events, but still be a small underground band playing very underground music to fifty or so people, a week later. But yeah, I get what you mean. I’ve accidentally seen a bit of Sabaton, actually, and I don’t really have an opinion on them, I’m sure they are all better musicians than I am, nor would I begrudge them their success, but most of all, I remember thinking they were businessmen, giving the crowd what it wants. I also saw a bit of Alestorm and they were totally abusive to the audience – they were really taking the piss, it was almost embarrassing – which was very honest of them, haha! But as a grumpy old man, the thing that annoys me the most about those festivals isn’t so much the slick bands, it’s the way people wander around with those dull-eyed stares, stuffing their face with burgers, and dropping their fucking litter everywhere. And I hate people who drop litter!
- With “Old man’s mettle” you have started a remarkably interesting blog, on which you publish interviews and reviews of records or gigs. What drives you to do this and how do you choose your interview partners?
I used to run a small label called King Penda Productions which was an outlet for the BRETWALDAS releases, amongst others. But after 17 years, having a label named after an old Anglosaxon king was a bit limiting, and I was just doing it because I’d always done it, which is a terrible place to be. Also, as mentioned before, the world has changed a lot in that time.
We interview / review anyone interesting and likeable, who either has their roots in the late 70s, 1980s and early 90s – either they are old and were active then, or they are younger and reference that time in some way through their art today. It’s not nostalgia ( the 80s were shit, especially in the UK! ) but in that period technology allowed normal people to start making art, there was a sudden outburst of styles, and those styles have stayed with us, being mostly only diversified and nuanced ever since. There is a compelling theory that there are no new popular cultural inventions ( people think of rap as modern, but it started in the 70s! ) and western progression is slowing down1. You have to remember that in the 1980s we thought we’d be having holidays on the moon by 2020, but no, here we are in a semi-dystopian world, albeit one with wi-fi, and my daughter likes the same music as I did in 1984! Interesting times.
As for feedback – live gig reviews are useful for people who love the bands but can’t get to the shows. Album reviews seem less useful, I don’t think people really read them that much, just the bands really. But interviews are the best – there are some interesting ones coming up. And of course it’s a record label for Bretwaldas and possibly some other bands – Pete Nash of UK crust punk band Doom nearly released a CD with OMM, but that fell through, as he was sort of obligated to someone else.
- Not only when I read your lyrics, I can feel a special love for the history of England, for a long time gone. Since Mayhems »Pagan fears«, we have known that »The past is alive«. What is it about these stories that fascinates you and what can you learn from them for life today?
Pagan Feeaaaars! Actually, regarding the lyric of that song, I can’t help thinking that is is only very recently that those fears and superstitions of the unknown have gone away. Life is 24/7 now and everything is drenched in light. When I was a kid it was still quite scary, and lots of TV programmes in England were very pagan, as well as lots of kids books. ‘Children of the Stones’ was on at 5pm and the music was terrifying. ‘Box of Delights’ by John Masefield was similar. What you learn from the past is that civilisation as we know it today is a very thin veneer, and you are wise to not ever lose sight of that. Wartooth’s lyrics are also very much about old ancestor worship, ancient martial societies, and so on. We are both grounded in the old times, because although technology progresses, people do not really change that much.
- You play both the guitar and the drums with Bretwaldas, which is very unusual. How would you describe your relationship with Wartooth and why haven’t you caught a drum- or guitar-goblin in Birmingham to rule the world by playing live?
Because of the cost and hassle of owning a drumkit, there are too many guitarists in circulation, and not enough drummers – so even if they are not good musicians, drummers can still pick and choose which bands to join. I decided to have a go at playing, around 2001, and I think on the first demo I’d only been playing a few weeks ( hence the sloppiness ) but I found the co-ordination challenges of drumming very enjoyable, and some rhythms that other people struggle with, I find easy, although of course it all evens out in the end – I can only ever use one kick pedal for instance – you will notice there is never any double kick on anything we’ve ever recorded. I tried it once on my other project ‘Symbel’, and it nearly killed me. But as for not finding the right drummer – well, we are all ‘wired’ differently, after all – sometimes it’s just easier to do something yourself than try explain it to someone else.
I have known Wartooth most of my life – we like the same things, and even though he is an annoying bastard, he is the closest person to the way I think, and we work well together.
With music already recorded and circulated, it is much easier to get other members on board, I think. We’ve had offers from bassists and guitarists in the past, so maybe one day…
- And now for something completely different: Can you please tell us about the benefits of oak leaves on the face? I think there are some strange photos …
We don’t know who those two fuckers were! We met them at the Green Man festival in Clun, Shropshire. They were walking around, on magic mushrooms, staring at everyone, and drinking beer from pewter tankards. Ha ha ha! 😉
- Personally, I miss Monty Python very much today. How much Monty Python is actually in Bretwaldas?
Yeah, some of that stuff was funny – the films like ‘Life of Brian’, and scenes like the ‘ministry of silly walks’. Some of it was just stupid, though…and hasn’t aged so well. BBC Hitchikers Guide to the Galaxy, Black Adder and Red Dwarf were good life-observation comedies. I guess the British today are a product of that time, although perhaps there are historical reasons of course for our supposed sense of humour – island mentality, insularity, etc. Having said that, I’m not sure if the British have a sense of humour that is so different to mainland Europeans? I don’t know. I liked Spike Milligan’s books – he wrote about the futility of being in the British army, was always undermining badly-thought-out authority by ‘holding up a mirror to it’, and the books are rather similar to the Good Soldier Svejk by Czech anarchist Jaroslav Hasek. Actually, the funniest British comedy moment was probably when he called Prince Charles a ‘little grovelling bastard’ at an award event.
In Bretwaldas? I think you should do everything with total conviction, regardless. Being in a band is such a pretentious thing, if you think about it, that you may as well be serious about it. And there’s always gallows humour. As such it is simultaneously light and dark, and like those insects that do a funny dance before suddenly biting the head off their prey, you can never really tell whether they’re joking or not.
Since this magazine is dedicated to the fairy world, I would also like to ask you whether such stories, i.e. fairy tales, legends or traditions, whether the fairy folk had an influence on your worldview or your development?
It’s just as well Wartooth didn’t see this question – ‘fairies’ are seen as effeminate in British culture and he would have started moaning at me. But if you called them ‘land-spirits’ and ‘wights’ instead, that would be ok. It’s human nature to personify forces of nature, and yes we both ‘get’ those old ideas, and understand that acting as if ‘land spirits’ are real can sometimes be benficial, and that often science can kind of ‘justify their existence’, in a roundabout way. Old stories are really useful as well, yes. I read a great creation tale from the Orkney islands recently – a giant living on the north coast of Scotland needed some peat turfs for his fire, so he wandered through the north sea to Norway, cut some turfs and put them in his basket, turned around and walked back. After a short while he felt a rumble in his bowels and needed the toilet, so he pulled down his trousers and ‘Shit Land’ ( Shetland Islands ), then just before he got home, the handle of the basket snapped and the turfs all fell into the sea, creating the Orkneys.
Finally, I would like to hear two secrets from you: What sort of beer are you drinking on the photo of the “Battle Staffs in the Mushroom Forest” Album and what does the future of Bretwaldas and OMM look like? Thanx for your time. Any last words?
Haha – it’s Highgate Mild. It’s a dark beer from the English midlands – a very working class ‘session’ drink. They used to give it to children in their milk bottles to help them sleep. It’s almost impossible to find mild these days though, unless you go to a working men’s club. The closest thing to it would be ‘Pig on the Wall’ beer – although I am never drinking that again ( that is another story).
OMM will continue wandering around the musical world for a while yet, talking to interesting people about life, the universe, and their art. For Bretwaldas we have the songs to record for the follow up, and it looks like that will be early 2021 now [ yeah right, 2022, ed ] – due to lockdown we were having trouble getting anywhere to record the drums, but we have that sorted now. The music is a continuation of the ‘Killers’ vibe, maybe a bit heavier, but it is as good, or better than anything we did before, so if you liked any of our releases then you should like this one.
Thanks for the interview Andreas, best of luck to you, and to all your readers.