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13th February 2012
It seems concept albums based on tribes dating back to the time of the Roman Empire are in vogue amongst bands from the folk metal fraternity at the moment. Hot on the heels of Eluveitie's 'Helvetios', an album based on the Celtic Helvetii, Dutch metallers Heidevolk are about to unleash their latest work, 'Batavi', named after and based on an ancient Germanic tribe. Ahead of its release, guitarist Reamon Bomenbreker provided Metal Discovery with an insight into what is the band's heaviest material to date...
METAL DISCOVERY: The new record, ĎBatavií, has been described as your ďheaviest, most aggressive and powerful album ever.Ē Did you consciously decide thatís the direction you would take with your sound during the writing process?
REAMON: Well, yeah, exactly, during the writing process because we came together with the first material after the release of the last album and we started listening to what everybody had come up with and, yeah, soon we realised this is more brutal than the last work we did. Then we sort of made the decision we should work on that; if thatís the vibe that weíre all in we should go along with that and make it a real brutal album.
(Reamon Bomenbreker on the heavier nature of material on forthcoming new album 'Batavi')
"...itís still Heidevolk, but it was time to try something new...We wanted something heavier, a bit darker, a bit more metal if you will."
Heidevolk - promo shot
Interview by Mark Holmes
Photograph copyright © 2011 Awik Balaian
MD: It works well. So the new material started out heavier and you thought youíd make it even heavier?
REAMON: Yeah, exactly. I know itís not a big change of style, itís still Heidevolk, but it was time to try something new. Once we wrote some songs and knew it was going to be a lot heavier, then we started thinking about production. When we started listening to the old albums we thought it was time for a change. We worked with Dick Kemper for the last two albums and that was okay but it was a little bit too much rock if you know what I mean. We wanted something heavier, a bit darker, a bit more metal if you will. Then we discussed what producer would fit this style of music and came up with Peter Tšgtgren and I think it fits the change in style perfectly.
MD: Definitely. Was it just the drums Peter recorded in his Abyss studio and I gather he did the mix too?
REAMON: Yeah, he recorded the drums and he did the mix of the whole album.
MD: So did you have a dialogue with him as to how you envisaged the final mix would sound like?
REAMON: Yeah, during the recording of the drums I went over there together with our drummer Joost, sort of to checkÖ [laughs]Ö what they were doing over there but also to have someone to discuss all his drum fills and stuff with. And we discussed music and the direction of the album a lot with him and he got the whole vibe of the album. He did exactly what we envisioned, what we wanted, but he did a little bit more than mixing Ė we sent him the signals of the guitar and he put the signal through his own amp so we really created the sound of the whole album over there in The Abyss studio. Itís amazing what you can do nowadays! [laughs]
MD: Definitely, and nice to know you made the right choice at the start.
REAMON: Yeah, and Iím honestly really happy with the result.
MD: Yeah, itís a great sounding album and apart from what you did with Peter, I gather you recorded most of the stuff in Holland in an area that was originally a village called Oppidum Batavorum?
REAMON: Yeah, exactly, thatís whatÖ well, it was sort of a coincidenceÖ [laughs]
MD: Ah, yeah, that was going to be my question Ė was it entirely a coincidence or was it important to have that Batavi link?
REAMON: Well, that link was a coincidence because our sound engineer, you know, our live sound engineer but he also records a lot of our demo stuff, he lives in Nijmegen, thatís what itís called nowadays, the city of Nijmegen, so that was a coincidence. But if you talk about links, we did record our new video right on the spot where the Batavian tribe used to live and also the band photos in the same place. So there are some links to it but this was a coincidence.
MD: A very nice coincidence!
REAMON: Yeah, definitely! [laughs]
MD: Obviously all the lyrics centre around the ancient Germanic tribe called the Batavi Ė how much research did you have to do on the Batavians or were you already quite familiar with their story and history?
REAMON: Well, we were quite familiar because it is a famous Dutch story but we did some extra research. We went to the Valkhof museum which is a museum in Nijmegen and we even got some private tours of some collections that arenít always in the museum, so that was really cool. The main writers, especially Joris, one of the vocalists, heís almost a walking encyclopaedia, especially about Germanic tribes in Holland. So everybody did read into the subject but it is a familiar part of Dutch history.
MD: Right, yeah, and you just read up more on the specifics to get some of the actual factsÖ
REAMON: Exactly, yeah, just to be sure we didnítÖ [laughs]Ö tell bullshit! We didnít want to try to write a history book or anything like that. Some parts have the actual names and events that happened but the feeling, you know, how we thought they felt at that time. So thereís a lot of room for poetic licence.
MD: So do you see it as an important part of Heidevolkís identity to maintain singing in Dutch to give the mythological and historical themes in your lyrics more significance and authenticity?
REAMON: I donít know if itís more significance but it feels more logical to sing in Dutch. First of all youíre making folk metal/Pagan metal, whatever you want to call it, we sing about Dutch history, so why would we not sing in Dutch? Not even folk metal, but most folk bands sing in their native language so itís just more logical for us. We donít play metal for the money or for the fame; for that, youíre better off choosing another style of music. Itís just logical for us.
MD: Of course, yeah, that makes sense. But are you ever worried that some of those historical concepts might get a bit lost on your non-Dutch speaking audience unless they actively seek translations and so forth?
REAMON: Yeah, especially the poetic part because that vanishes if you translate it into English. Yeah, thatís too bad, you knowÖ [laughs] Thereís nothing we can do about it.
MD: There are pros and cons of singing in Dutch, I guess.
REAMON: Yeah, and we try to put some explanations of the songs in the album, what the song is about and then itís really up to the listener to use their own imagination and make something of it.
MD: I guess itís no different to having a black or death band growling away where you canít understand what theyíre singing but still get something out of it.
REAMON: Yeah and, you know, most people are used to it with the whole Scandinavian scene so why couldnít we do it?! [laughs]
MD: Exactly! From any feedback you get from fans, do you find out if people actually bother to delve a little bit deeper into the history about what youíre singing and go and read up more on those subjects?
REAMON: Yeah, well, Iíve noticed itís very much alive. I already noticed from the press from the questions we get, especially for the new album, but also a lot of young people here in the Netherlands, theyíre picking up history just because they maybe get inspired by Heidevolk. Even in Italy, you get a lot of questions about it Ė they find it very interesting over there for some reason, the whole Dutch history.
MD: Thatís great. So itís educational as well as cool music!
REAMON: Yeah, it isnít our main purpose but itís nice, you know.
MD: So Heidevolk could be taught in schools!
REAMON: Weíre not making a history book but if people get inspired by history or Dutch history then thatís cool.
MD: Thatís a positive thing, yeah. So whatís your personal perception of history Ė do you believe that lessons can be learned from studying the past and researching your own heritage or is it more just an observational thing for you?
REAMON: ErmÖ [laughs]Ö thatís a harder question than you would thinkÖ itís even harder for me because Iím a history teacher! [laughs] So if I would say itís not to learn about history that would be a real strange thing! But I do realise you can get everything out of history and you can manipulate it and get the things you really want. It can be lots of things Ė it can be a warning; you can use history to find a relation to your country; you can get a lot of things out of history but, at the end, itís up to the person themself.
MD: Yeah, it becomes less objective and more subjective over time because itís more open to different interpretations the more distance between the then and now that you have.
REAMON: Yeah, and even if you know a lot of things of the subject you always see it through the perceptions of the twenty first century. How did they really feel when they were rebelling against the Romans? You know, itís still guessing.