Maik Weichert from Heaven Shall Burn: "We've no plans for any Tankard covers"...

Politics, economics, veganism...and metal...

My interview with guitarist Maik Weichert from Heaven Shall Burn begins with him apologising for ringing later than scheduled, and he thoughfully (though jokingly) offers “I’m a punctual German so it’s really rare.” as a kind of explanation. It’s all good, matey – let us push on. Tell me about the reaction to the new album VETO. Are you happy with how it’s been received so far? “It’s been overwhelming. We’ve had such good reactions to the album; almost no negative feedback - at least here in Europe – it’s the best feedback we’ve had for an album so far.”

There are heaps of guest musicians on VETO; Rob Franssen and Dominik Stammen of Born From Pain do guest vocals on Die Sturme rufen Dich, Hansi Kursch of Blind Guardian on the cover of Blind Guardian’s Valhalla, plus some of the guys from Macbeth going shred-crazy on Land Of The Upright Ones; naturally I have to ask if Heaven Shall Burn like to get other musicians involved in their work. “In the past we never really did something like that. This time it just felt right, you know? We had friends in our area, like the guys from (Born From) Pain, they were playing in a neighbouring city and we just grabbed them, dragged them to the studio and they had to sing! And with the Blind Guardian song we wanted to have absolution from the Blind Guardian guys so the German True Metal Police wouldn’t hang about outside. Actually I’m not a big fan of having too many guests on the record otherwise it just looks like you’re collecting selling points and not having your own stuff to offer but this time for the record, it worked out. But I don’t think we’ll have too many guests in the future.”

So if you only have one guest vocalist on the next album, who would it be?  Without delay, Maik replies “The guy on the top of the list is Till from Rammstein – he’s very shy about doing guest appearances so I don’t think that’ll work out…”

Heaven Shall Burn are renowned for the social commentary in their lyrics but do you ever get the urge to write about Satan, hot chicks and beer? He laughs, adding “Of course I do! I’m a guy playing in a metal band so of course I have the urge to write about that stuff but that I would rather do it in a project that is not connected to Heaven Shall Burn. Heaven Shall Burn is a very political band and I don’t want to weaken our message by writing about girl problems or something like that.” So there are no plans to do some Tankard covers? Mark says no but he’s laughing so you never know – it could be a possibility in the future.

Time for some geography and political studies now. I saw that the track Land Of The Upright Ones is dedicated to Thomas Sankara, a largely unknown Burkina Faso (a West African country) revolutionary; what’s the reasoning behind trying to brings fans attention to people such as Sankara? “He wasn’t a very famous revolutionary; I’m talking about central Europe – though Australia is also a part of the Commonwealth with all the connections to colonialism – our countries still have connections to all these countries that have despot leaders and dictators, and people are not really educated about the leaders in countries in Africa, South America or South-East Asia who try to go a different way and try to find justice and a good life for their people beyond all the colonisation stuff, and Thomas Sankara was somebody like that; he wanted equal rights for women, he wanted independence from France, he didn’t pay back the debt they had from France, and I think we’re not really educated about these people, and we don’t try to help these people to help themselves.”

I haven’t seen any tour announcements beyond a few European dates in June and August; what are the band’s tour plans? “We’re gonna do a full European tour in November and December, and maybe between the summer festivals there may be a few other trips abroad but nothing I can talk about now but we’re planning a few things, and hopefully in early 2014 we’ll be back to your area.”

2012 was a monumental year for the band: headlining the Progression Tour with Unearth, Rise To Remain and Neaera, you guys played Soundwave and it was the band’s 15th anniversary – how will you top that in 2013? “I think the 16th year of existence for a band is even cooler than the 15th! Next month we’re playing a really cool festival in the Netherlands (FortaRock 2013) with Rammstein, Volbeat, Kreator and tons of bands that we’re looking forward to sharing the stage with so there’s the potential there for 2013 to be a big year too.”

Tell me about recording the 500.Live bonus CD that comes with a limited number the VETO album. “Oh! That was really cool! To be honest, nowadays if you record a live LP; you play it on stage then you play it again in the studio,” It’s apparent that Maik dislikes too many overdubs, adding “but we really tried to realise that raw, live energy and not polish it too much in the studio. We’re not selling that CD - it’s a bonus for the record so we don’t want to fool people, but it was really cool playing there; it’s a small club (the live album was recorded at Klubhaus, in the band’s hometown of Saalfeld) where we started to play our first shows and we had two or three days in a row playing there, it was really, really cool.”

So does VETO move away from the Iconclast series? “I’m still the same guy writing the lyrics so it’s actually continuing in some ways but it’s really good to be able to write lyrics not in the shadow of a concept so I didn’t have to write about heroes – of course the Land Of The Uprights lyrics could have been lyrics on the Iconclast trilogy but it was really good to not be limited to certain topics. It was a lot of fun and felt a lot fresher.”

I hear you’re working on a doctoral thesis on constitutional law; have you finished yet? “Whoa! You’re very well informed! Actually on Friday I have my final oral exams (no sniggering, childish readers) so right after I do these interviews today I’m gonna start reading again but actually the grades I got for my written thesis were really good so there’s nothing for me to be afraid of in the oral exam.”

Is it difficult to study while on the road? “On tour, it’s all about waiting; waiting at airports, sitting on buses, sitting on planes so reading books or writing something on your computer is really easy to do on tour. It actually helped me a lot; if I had a job in an office or something like that then I couldn’t have written so much for the thesis. So it actually helped playing in a band as there’s a lot of spare time between shows and recordings. I just do this because I’m interested in it. Now I’m thinking about studying something else; maybe psychology or economics or something like that…I’m not a big visionary about my life.” So anyone else in the band with academic leanings? “Our drummer studied economics and the other guys are working more in the medical sector as nurses and physiotherapists…”

Come on - who’s vegan/straight edge and who isn’t – name names! He laughs at my attempts at McCarthyism though he does explain that “I’m a straight edge guy, our drummer is a straight edge guy, our bass player is a fucking drop-out! And our singer doesn’t drink at all – but he wouldn’t say he was straight edge though…he’s never liked that attitude that much…”

VETO was produced and engineered with the assistance of guitarist Alexander Dietz. Are you passionate about producing your own music? “Of course! There are a lot more arguments and a lot more positive and negative passions when you produce your own record! But that’s a good thing; I guess you put a lot more thought into it if it’s your own band, and a real advantage is that Alex and me know each other so well, it’s like a whole different way of working. It’s actually like working together in a marriage.” So who is the husband and who is the wife? He laughs again as he answers “It has to be more like a gay marriage!”

And if you could eradicate one world problem? “If I was living in Africa then I would change something different to if I was living in Europe but I guess I would change the energy problem. I would make the world take a whole different direction with not burning oil or coal and developing wind power; maybe the world’s hunger problem is an even bigger problem? So I actually have two problems to solve.”

I figure that time is against us and am about to wrap up the interview but Maik insists that it’s cool to continue the conversation and I’m more than happy to. We veer into a very interesting discussion on modern economic theory and capitalism - I won’t bore you with the details but we’ve essentially identified where the global market is going wrong – you’ll have to wait for our forth-coming book Mark and Albert’s Bumper Book of Economic Theory to hear our ideas on the swing between Keynesian and Neo-Liberal  stances. It’s riveting stuff despite economics being a false science.

His final words are to sing the praises of Australian metal fans: “We’re really looking forward to coming back to Australia. We’ve been talking about it every month! It’s so much fun down there! What we like is that everyone is so friendly and easy-going – if an Australian is friendly, you know they really mean it! And that’s what we love…”
Maik Weichert. A gentleman and a scholar. Literally.