The United Kingdom has a long but curiously inconsistent history when it comes to Black Metal.It is, after all, the land which gave birth to the Metal genre as a whole, thanks to Black Sabbath, Judas Priest and Motörhead (and, arguably,also Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin), and it is therefore perhaps unsurprising that it also holds the honour of spawning the first Extreme Metal band, in the shape of Newcastle’s Venom. Taking inspiration from all the aforementioned godfathers – along with the UK Punk bands such as the Sex Pistols and Sham 69 – this trio pushed Heavy music into a world of unprecedented blasphemy, aggression and rawness. In doing so they inadvertently created the Thrash, Death and Black Metal subgenres, giving the latter its very name and inspiring a myriad of bands from Bathory and Mayhem to Sigh and Samael.
Yet, despite this most promising of starts, what followed was almost three decades of, at best, sporadic activity, with such talents as Cradle of Filth, Old Forest, The Meads of Asphodel and Hecate Enthroned working almost in isolation, until a new wave of bands burst forth onto the world stage in the late 00s and early 2010s. Since that time the likes of Winterfylleth, Fen, The Infernal Sea, Saor, A Forest of Stars, Abduction and Necronautical have raised the profile for British Black Metal immeasurably, also creating something of a cohesive British scene for the first time in the process.
While Heathen Deity have likely benefitted from this increased interest in UKBM – and have undeniably been at their most active in recent years in terms of releases and live shows – their roots belong to a previous era, the band actually dating right back to the late 90s. It’s something that is reflected in their unapologetically old school sound, which draws on the magic of early Norwegian Black Metal pioneers such as Gorgoroth and Mayhem, while throwing in the frosty fury of the mid-90s Swedish scene and a recognisable homegrown atmosphere and spirit. We tracked down Dagon (vocals, lyrics) and Azrael (guitars, songwriting), to find out more about the band’s history and their long-awaited – and long-overdue – debut album, True English Black Metal.
This Is Black Metal: First of all, congratulations on the completion and imminent release of your debut studio album! As the lyrics to the record’s title track tells, Heathen Deity formed way back in 1998, something that may surprise people discovering you on the back of this first full-length studio release. Can we begin by talking about the band’s very early days and formation?
Dagon: “Heathen Deity was formed out of a common appreciation and respect for [Black Metal] music and its musicians. The usual story applies, we started covering the bands we listened to – Mayhem, Dissection and Tormentor – and gradually writing our own music, finding our feet and our sound.”
TIBM: Though not a founding member, guitarist and songwriter Azrael has been present within Heathen Deity since the very first demo release – how did the two of you come into contact originally? Would you say you share the same vision for Heathen Deity and what is the writing process generally when it comes to creating new material?
Dagon: “We used to drink in the same pub and shared a larger circle of friends. I was aware that Azrael was a musician, but, as far as I knew at that time, he wasn’t into Black Metal – I made this assumption due to the gothic stylings he used to fashion back in the early days. I guess I was a little narrow-minded – if it wasn’t Black Metal then it was shit, that kind of mentality, young and borderline music elitist. I actually seem to recall altercations between us after a few ales, where I would, for some reason, try to strangle him. I suppose there are worse ways of meeting people. Eventually, we spoke about music, bands we were both into, gigs we had attended and venues we had been to, and I mentioned the band I was trying to form – we went by the name of ‘Crypt’ for a very short time, a matter of months if I recall. Azrael showed interest and came over to see what we were about. When Azrael joined the band, he brought with him certain energy and this was enough to drive the band forward to a project with its own original material.”
Azrael: “Dagon told me sometime in 1998 that he was forming a band. He had asked me a few times months after that discussion to come down to check them out and hear them rehearse. I was interested after the first time he spoke to me about it, but I was still playing guitar in [Gothic Rock band] 13 Candles at the time and finding the time to meet them was difficult. I did obviously get there in the end. This was roughly early 1999, mid-Spring, something like that. They were rehearsing, ironically, in a Church hall, something I find amusing even to this day. Dagon had gathered a group of people together and it immediately became apparent that they, or some of them, were still learning their instruments, but the songs they were covering held a lot of promise. The sound at the time was a very keyboard-driven sound for the most part, something akin to early Hecate Enthroned, Dimmu Borgir, that kind of thing. You hear it on the first demo Whispers of the Unlight. I knew immediately what needed to be done with the band and over the course of three to four weeks of rehearsing with them, I presented to them an original song I had written and recorded on my 4-track porta studio. This was ‘Before the Daylight Mourn.’ The ideology for the band has remained the same since the beginning and we both have our own personal interpretations of what that is. The main one obviously being anti-religious.”
Dagon: “Our writing process is a fairly simple one in comparison to most. Put simply, Azrael writes the music and I handle the lyrics. Azrael will offer a collection of riffs, we discuss a basic arrangement and tempo, the song is demoed with digital drums and any changes to the arrangements or tempo, etc. are made once the vocal lines start to form. The song will then be sent to the rest of the band along with their individual soloed parts to learn.”
Azrael: “Sometimes, or a lot of the time, especially with the album writing sessions, I would present a bonafide finished song. If Dagon has some issues and wants to do a certain vocal thing or feels a certain passage within the song needs to be slightly different, longer, shorter, whatever, or something he didn’t like, we discuss this and plan to make the alterations discussed. The songs I write are always open to discussion and debate from anyone within the band. Usually, though there are not many issues.”
Dagon: “We have been writing together for so long now, with Heathen Deity and also on other projects and collaborations, that we know each others’ strengths and tastes. If there was an issue– for example, if I didn’t like a section of a riff or I had drifted off-key with a clean vocal part – we know there isn’t an issue in bringing it up and discussing the offending section, it needs to be right and we all need to be happy with the final result.”
TIBM: Tell us more about the early years, specifically the time of the demo and first two EP releases? What was the reaction like to those recordings back then and were you active as a live band?
Dagon: “I never had any expectations in what we could attain with the band as long as we all gave it our all – same goes for the live aspect. I never really gave any thought of how the band came across live, as long as the performance was true to what we did at that point in time, we did what we did and what felt right to us, it was irrelevant what anyone else thought.”
Azrael: “Our first live performance as a band was on Tuesday 16th November 1999 in a small venue in Sheffield called The Grapes. We weren’t really ready for live performances at the time, but we went ahead and did it anyway. We had the one original song which we had rehearsed to death, and a bunch of cover songs, and that was it. We were on stage for around 20 minutes and we were done. The audience consisted of our friends and the other band that played. Just a handful of people really. That truly was a baptism of fire and we learnt a lot from that experience.”
Dagon: “As far as I can remember it was all positive in regard to the releases back then as far as reviews and fan response. I do recall being disappointed with our first studio recording experience as we ran out of time and everything became rushed which was the last thing I wanted to happen. When you put so much into a project, and the blueprint and direction that you had formed in your mind during the lead up to the session doesn’t match up with the final project it can be disheartening.”
Azrael: “We really didn’t like that first demo, to the point where we wouldn’t issue it to anyone. The guys at the studio didn’t really understand what we were trying to do and achieve and didn’t really have a clue how to mix the noise we had created. We were also having issues with our guitarist Dace at the time as he was going through some personal stuff which led him to be unable to concentrate on what we were trying to do. The whole situation was a mess and a lost cause. Or that is how it felt at the time.”
Dagon: “Looking back on those recordings now, I think I was a little harsh on our efforts, especially as the band was in its infantile years. There wasn’t anything particularly wrong with the recordings, I just wanted everything to be, faster, more aggressive. I wanted my vocals to be the very voice of Satan himself, whatever that meant. Just the inexperience shining through, coupled with the notion that I could always do better, an itch that I just couldn’t seem to appease. I don’t regret feeling this way, and pushing myself to this mental state, it’s what has made me what I am today. It’s pointless regretting anything in this life as it’s all a learning process.”
Azrael: “The EP For the Glory of Satan in 2002 was a step in the right direction for us and our stance as a band. We had gone through a total line-up change and thus altered the sound of the band to a more raw type of black metal as opposed the keyboard stuff we were doing previously. We re-recorded some of the songs from the first demo, but they had a different flavour this time round. We did face the same problems though in the sense that the studio guys didn’t know what to do with our sound. The EP, like the demo, is far from perfect, but it is what it is. It’s a moment in time. A part of our history, so to speak.”
Dagon: “I knew I wanted Heathen Deity to have traditional Oldschool Black Metal aesthetics, that is something that will never change. I don’t recall any issues or complaints with any live shows, and to be honest I probably wouldn’t have listened or cared if there were. We played a good amount of shows in the early days, local ones, like every band starting out, and eventually venturing out to London in the latter years of the first incarnation. All very positive experiences to me as far as I recall.”
Azrael: “I think one of the best shows we did in the early days was at The Red Eye in London on December 3rd, 2000. We played with Solace Denied and Hecate Enthroned. Everything just seemed right at that point. That audience that night seemed very susceptible and appreciative of what we were doing and what we were presenting to them. Situations like that are great as they make you feel accomplished and give you the kind of drive to push forward and carry on that particular path.”
Dagon: “I do remember feeling proud and accomplished after the early shows, especially if I allowed myself to compare our performance against some of the other acts on the same stage. We always gave it our all, both musically and visually. I always used to feel bands describing the live arena as a ritual to be a pure cliché, but it really can feel that way, venting and cleansing, finding your inner demon and being allowed to let it out. This was especially poignant to me and very personal back in the early days, it just cemented the fact that Heathen Deity is a live band, and if we couldn’t perform live I wouldn’t allow it to continue.”
TIBM: The band was more or less silent from the mid-2000s to the late 2010s, despite most of the material on the new album having been written prior to that point. Why was an album not created sooner, what led to the long period of inactivity and what triggered the return?
Dagon: “Life happened. The normal downfall of bands and musicians. Our drummer at that time, Sathan, moved to Norway to pursue the Black Metal dream, he subsequently joined Pantheon I, Sarkom and The 3rd Attempt, to namedrop but a few of his many projects. Azrael also moved over there, but I will let him talk about that. I made numerous attempts to find other like-minded musicians to carry on the band, but it was to no avail. Even though Metal Archives states that we went on our hiatus in 2004, in reality it was much later than that. Yes, we didn’t do any more live performances after 2004, but the band itself was still active after that date. I tried for a couple of years to make it work until it became obvious to me that it just wasn’t going to work the way it should do. The way I needed it to.”
Azrael: “I remember around 2006/2007 I came back to the UK a couple of times and rehearsed with the people Dagon was gathering at the time. He had got Xjort [Iron Void/Reign of Erebus] on drums involved, who would figure in our story in later years. Finding a guitarist was the big deal at the time. Someone to take my place and carry on what we started. The biggest downfall was the lack of chemistry within the band as it was at that time. It just didn’t seem to work out.”
Dagon: “I started my own side project I named Frostwork and Azrael moved forward with his project Ethereal Forest that he formed with Sathan. We obviously kept in touch, and when Azrael moved back to England years later, there wasn’t any question to me what would follow.”
Azrael: “Throughout that whole hiatus situation and me being away from the band I still felt the drive to continue working on the songs we had already written for an album. There was always a voice in my head telling me to continue developing the songs and I really had no idea why at the time. It was just something I had to do, even if it was never to be recorded.”
TIBM: The True English Black Metal album is unashamedly rooted in the formative years of the Second Wave, with definite Norwegian and Swedish influences as well as some of the British spirit that is shared by bands like Hecate Enthroned, with definite Pagan/historic overtones and certain familiar native musical characteristics. Is it fair to say that you took much of your inspirations from early/mid 90s Black Metal during the writing of these songs, and is this still the case moving forward?
Dagon: “Musically I would agree, we have never tried to hide our influences, or been ashamed of them, they are one of the reasons we are doing what we are doing after all.”
Azrael: “We have always worn our influences on our sleeves and the 90s Black Metal scene holds a lot of influence and sway in what we do and what we have always done. Obviously, there are other influences there also, some obvious, some a bit more obscure. We are not trying to copy anyone at all, but sometimes you get a certain feel with a certain part of a song and you can pinpoint it to an influence or a particular atmosphere. We never set out to re-invent the wheel so to speak, just to do what we want and have a passion and admiration for. We are what we are and we never try and dress it up as something else. We wouldn’t be true to ourselves or anybody else if we tried to be any different. We do what is right for us. Always have and always will.”
Dagon: “Vocally when I first started with Black Metal vocals I was heavily influenced by Maniac [ex-Mayhem], Pest [ex-Gorgoroth] and Wrath [Black Dawn/True Black Dawn] to name but a few. Now my vocal is however it is on the day, it is in its natural state, regarding extreme vocals anyway, there is no attempt to sound like anyone, this is what is comfortable to me.”
Heathen Deity – Religious Purification Through Fire (full album, 2018)
TIBM: Despite its grimly monochromatic and often uncompromising approach, this lengthy new record boasts a surprising degree of dynamics, with slower moments, fairly frequent clean guitars and quite a lot of more embittered and epic parts. How intentional was this? Did the older songs undergo many changes prior to recording?
Dagon: “Everything is intentional – as I have stated before in the past, our art with Heathen Deity is more than music to us. The band has been such a large part of our lives for so long now, everything has to be right and properly thought out, it cannot be forced or rushed, we had plenty of time to develop and sculpt the songs to a point where we are totally and without a doubt happy with the songwriting. I have been in the situation before where we had to make do with what we had after a studio session, and it is constantly playing on your mind after, and I won’t be put in that position again. With our tempestuous history and our hiatus playing a large part in offering us the time, I see it as an opportunity and not a hindrance. I wouldn’t have changed a thing.”
Azrael: “As I said, I never stopped working on the tracks the whole time I was away. Of course, there were other things happening in my life, both musical and personal, but the Heathen Deity album was always there, being developed. Parts and passages reimagined and demoed, structures being shifted around and re-thought out. It never really stopped. I do believe in evolution, especially with songwriting and the abilities to write music as a whole.”
Dagon: “Our sound has developed and matured over time, as have we as musicians, so yes, some of the older songs have undergone a few updates and tweaks to bring them to where we are now.”
Azrael: “I think that is a very natural thing when you have time on your hands. You hone your skillset and just become better at what you do, thus the very thing you create becomes something you couldn’t have done previously. This is very much the case with Heathen Deity and the album we have made. Time, blood, sweat and tears have gone into this creation.”
Heathen Deity – For the Nameless One – Shemhamforash (Single) 
TIBM: While most of the material was written prior to your return, you also wrote two new songs for the album, namely the 10-minute epic ‘For The Nameless One – Shemhamforash’, and the title track itself. Can you tell us a bit about those?
Dagon: “The song, ‘True English Black Metal’ started life at a rehearsal. ‘TEBM’ encapsulates the core of Heathen Deity; remain true to yourself and your ideals, never falter on your path and never let anything or anyone hinder your aspirations and desires. This could be said to be more of a life mantra, and I suppose it is, it’s also the core of my personal Satanic beliefs. To me, the lyrics came very easily, the song felt powerful and true, it’s a hard thing to describe, but it felt like a song that I wanted to write back at the early years of the band, but obviously wasn’t equipped to do so back then. So I made the song about the band’s creation and the core of its ideals. ‘TEBM’ was the last full song written for the album – funnily enough, it almost wasn’t on the album, and obviously the release would have been named something else. Once we started to flesh out the song, it injected its fresh ideals and venom into us as it grew, the album was yet again developing and ‘TEBM’ was the new focus.”
Azrael: “That song started out with just the main riff and parts of the verse riff. There was a day in the studio where we were thinking about writing some new material, writing as a whole band for a change. Nothing came out of that and it was frustrating. We roughly recorded bits of riffs and whatnot, but nothing really inspired. The band rehearsing next door were being highly annoying, playing their grunge tainted music – these rehearsal rooms weren’t soundproofed, so you can imagine trying to do something with some other song in your ears. In my frustration, I turned to my amp and jacked everything up to 10 and started to play these three minor chords in succession over and over and over again. Everyone in this tiny rehearsal room was holding their ears as this was beyond loud. Painful! Those three chords lead to me playing a version of the verse riff in ‘TEBM’ also. Luckily we were still recording and captured those parts of the song. It was astounding really, but that is how that song came to be.”
Dagon: “’For the Nameless One’ was all Azrael as far as music and arrangement, we had not created anything like that before in regard to the pace and feel of the song, sombre and lethargic almost. Lyrically the song is about the realisation that Christianity is a plague on humanity and that people need to wake up to the fact and make their own decisions in their life. It also touches on our dedication to our beliefs, and the unification of the scene towards a common goal, if such a thing is possible.”
Azrael: “‘For the Nameless One’ is a strange anomaly really, as it wasn’t written with Heathen Deity in mind originally. I did some session writing for a Columbian Black Metal/Ritual Ambient project called The Red Angle in 2011/2012. I forget how many songs I wrote at that time, I think six in total, but only a couple saw the light of day. One song ended up on a 7″ vinyl in 2013. My collaboration with that project didn’t last long really so I had these other songs leftover from that session with nowhere for them to go. I felt the music that I wrote that was to become ‘For the Nameless One’ was the best of the bunch and, to be honest, felt it wasn’t right for The Red Angle anyway, as it wasn’t ritualistic enough or fit the particular style they usually presented. Later on, I rediscovered that file and decided to rerecord it but with my usual guitar tones that I would tend to use in the traditional Black Metal stuff. I presented that to Dagon as an idea for a new track. To my surprise, it suited Heathen Deity really well because of the fact it was so different. We started to play it live from the moment we were reborn. The rest is history.”
Dagon: “And also, let’s not forget ‘Beneath the Fires of Albion’. On every studio release so far we have had an acoustic guitar track, this has grown into something of a theme in our releases. On the new album, we upped our game and decided that I should add clean vocals to the guitars, giving more of a medieval tone to the acoustic interlude. The addition of clean vocal parts, and also a short section of acapella, is something I think we will experiment more within future releases. I feel it is a good connection to our English heritage and something that sets us apart from an ever-growing, some say oversaturated, scene.”
Heathen Deity – Burn in Satans Name (2020) Death Kvlt Productions
TIBM: Speaking of which, it seems fair to say that the UK Black Metal scene has gone from having a more or less non-existent international presence, to being a fairly significant player, within the last ten years. You’ve obviously been present as both a band and as individuals since the 90s, how do you view things? Is it easier now than in the past to be a British Black Metal band?
Dagon: “It’s definitely easier to write and create music with the technology now available, but saying that, when you had no other choice but to go into a studio to get the results you wanted for your project, somehow it made it more special, you had to be more prepared and invested in your art, you had to be serious in your intentions or you were just wasting, not only your time, but that of the studio that you decided to attend. Basically, bands will come and go, the ones that are still here, the old guard so to speak, bands like Hecate Enthroned and Akercocke to name a couple, those bands are still creating and are still active live acts, those are the ones I have full respect for because I know how hard it can be to keep going. I guess we will see how many of the new bands are still around in a few years time, if they are worth their salt they will be. After all, it’s a well-documented English trait, is it not, to be stubborn?”
Azrael: “I agree on all sentiments in regard to the creative aspect of creating music and creating what we want to do without any limitations and cost to accomplish the main goal. From a live point of view it seems to have gotten easier, as venues are more attuned to what Black Metal is all about and what it can be, whereas 20 years ago there was literally nowhere to play. Attitudes towards our kind of band and other bands in the scene seem to have shifted in the last decade.”
Dagon: “I’ve never really been a scene person in all honesty, not that I don’t support the English Black Metal scene, of course I do, but I don’t get involved with other bands if I can help it, other peoples’ issues and politics are their own business and to be fair, as I have gotten older my time has become more of a premium asset. I don’t even really follow any bands like I used to, be they English or otherwise, aside from the bands and musicians that I personally know. I honestly wouldn’t be able to tell you what bands are releasing what or even what bands are still active. I am solely focused on what I am doing with my own life and projects. Call me hypocritical, call me selfish, that’s just the way I am.”
Azrael: “I feel I am the complete opposite. I like to know what is going on out there and regularly try to keep my fingers on the pulse of the scene. Not just in the UK but worldwide. It’s just the way I am and always have been.”
TIBM: It would be odd not to briefly discuss the fact that the new album is being released at a fairly unusual time in history – how do you think the pandemic has affected the band and the music industry in general?
Dagon: “It has only really affected the band in regard to our live shows, and rehearsing as a whole band. We had a number of shows booked that were firstly pushed back to a different date, and then subsequently canceled, if some of these get rebooked once all this mess is sorted then so be it. Things could have been a lot worse, we have come through it more or less unscathed. Globally I am in touch with different bands, and the same things are said all over the world. I think the industry is currently on its knees and it will take a good while to recover, if it does ever recover. Bigger bands seem to have been affected the most, those who rely on touring for the majority of their income. Obviously, venues have been hit very hard, with a lot closing. I did notice the news about the Black Heart in Camden, London having trouble, and they were asking for funds and help. I am happy to see they achieved their goal and remained open.”
Azrael: “Time will tell what the future holds for us all.”
TIBM: And what do you think the future holds for the band specifically? Your line-up over the years has been somewhat turbulent, do you consider it to be stable now? What is next for Heathen Deity?
Dagon: “I have considered our ‘Rebirth line-up’, which was formed in 2016, to be the final line-up for Heathen Deity, with the exception of our drummer at that time Xjort, he played his last show with us in 2017. Storm [ex Bal-Sagoth/The Deathtrip] joined on the kit in 2018 and he was with us until True English Black Metal was completed. G.H [A Forest of Stars, Deus Vermin, Hryre] joined as a permanent member in 2020 on the drums. What is next, only time will tell. We are relieved that TEBM will finally be released, via our good friends at Cult Never Dies and long-serving brothers at Death Kvlt Productions, I look forward to working more with them both in the future. We have already started writing again, and as soon as it permitted live dates will follow.”
Heathen Deity – True English Black Metal (Single)