I spoke to Lord Ragnar Wagnar, who performs vocal and guitar duties with The Heretic Order shortly before they went on stage at the Craufurd arms in December.
OK The Heretic order formed three years ago. Does it feel that long?
Not really. We formed the band at the end of 2014 – the first gig we did was in November. Nowadays threee years is nothing – it’s early days still. We’ve done a lot of things since then – this summer we went on tour to Europe for the first time, supporting I am morbid, which is a band with David Vincent from Morbid Angel and they were doing the legendary first three Morbid Angel albums, so that took us to Germany, Holland, Belgium, the usual you know. It was a really good experience for the band because until then we’d done a couple of gigs in Spain and Holland but not a proper tour. So since the day we started we’ve done loads.
How did you find the European audiences reacted compared to the UK ones? Was it a fairly similar reaction?
We’re a metal band, we play classic metal with a modern sound, so I would say it’s a bit more accepted there than in the UK, especially the youth – they tend to go through trends, today is Djent, then another style and they go swapping from one to another. In Europe they have the metal bands doing the rounds since, well always. They even have British bands like Cathedral, Tank, Bolt thrower, all these oldies, all playing in Europe, and maybe they neglect playing so much in the UK.
That’s true – you see band’s like Saxon play mid-afternoon at a UK festival, when the European festivals of a similar size have them way up around the top of the bill.
I think in Europe they still have a nostalgia for the more classic sounding metal rather than following the American trends
Your debut album, All hail the order, came out in 2015
Yes, we put it out around the end of September 2015, and this is actually the last time we’re touring with that album because we’ve already recorded and are in the final mixes of the second album, so our plan is to release that album next year. We are negotiating and talking to several labels. The first album came out on Massacre records, which for us was amazing – I’m a big fan of King Diamond and he had a load of his albums released on Massacre records. We’re talking to them about the new songs and they really like it, so it’s just putting together a package that works for both of us. We’re talking to a few labels, so we’re not sure but we definitely want to put the album out in 2018. Mind you we already have a tour in June, supporting Piston, so we’re aiming around end of April or during May to release it. Lets see how it goes.
What’s the song writing process in the band – is it a collaborative thing or are there one or two main song writers?
I’m afraid I do everything, the songs and the lyrics. Rotted Skull came out with some ideas for this album, but I’m the main songwriter. I have the concept ideas and the lyrics but the drummer will put his fills in and so on – it’s not a dictatorship, so everyone does their part but the main composing comes from me.
Where do you start with writing? Is it a guitar riff that starts things off?
At the beginning of the first album, it was guitar riffs – I consider myself a guitarist really rather than singer, but with the second album I was really inspired by some lyrics and books – our concept is very historical, the paranormal. We touch subjects like Paganism, Satanism, so everything is very much in the occult, horror theme which I love. On this album, some of the stuff, I was writing down ideas, little stories – I had brainstorms and I got historical characters that I wanted to write about, so that’s where the lyrics come from.
Presumably once you decide on a character and story then that determines how the song will sound.
Absolutely, the music, the mood…One of the songs on the new album is going to be an epic, around 12 minutes long, and it’s about Giles de Rais, who was a knight in the service of Joan of Arc when Joan of Arc was taken to be burned at the stake and afterwards he ended up being condemned as a child killer, a satanist, and he was tortured really badly. The accounts of the time speak of him having a tortured death, and all the accounts now suggest he was framed because he had so much power. So many of these stories are in there.
History has so many sources you can draw from to find characters with fantastic stories.
It’s amazing, I’m a fan of movies and sometimes I think you don’t need fiction – human history is full of gore and horror and amazing things people have done. It’s more shocking than things that are writtn in fiction.
Thats true – the torture methods used in the past were horrific and even if they decide at the end that you’re innocent you’re probably either dead or close to it anyway.
Once you were tortured you’d say whatever they wanted. Whenever I’m travelling anywhere, particularly in England, but anywhere – Holland, Czech republic, Germany, I always like to go to medieval places. I’ve been to the torture museum in Amsterdam and some of the stuff…you look at it and think “mother of god” – there are no words to explain the human mind. You don’t need what religious people thing of as the Devil – humans do a good enough job of that.
And sadly much of that torture and evil happened in the name of religion.
It’s still happening today. That’s the sad bit. Loads of people think because of our image we’re a black metal band, but we’re not, we do occult and paranormal stories – that’s where we’re coming from. In reality I don’t think religion is important nowadays, with science, but it’s still involved in killing loads of people in the world. It’s dogma – politics or religion, and some people use it. I was brought up Catholic and educated myself that not everythign is black and white. The first thing you learn in that particular religion – which was composed by Constantine in the 5th century and they decided what to let people know, an dmany things they hid because it took power from themselves, and it’s all so much bollocks and hypocrisy – and all religions are like that, especially the Abrahamic religions. At least with Buddhism they’re like “leave everyone alone”, they do their own thing.
You’ve got a couple more gigs left this year.
Yes we’ve got Facemageddon, which is in Reading with loads of British bands and looks pretty cool. This mini-tour in November and December came out of the blue. We had a couple of gigs – we were doing the Sophie fest in Manchester which is a really good cause, and because we had that gig we thought lets do one or two more and we ended up with like ten, so we decided this could be the last gigs presenting this album. We’d never played in Norwich or Milton Keynes before so it’s a good opportunity to come here. We’re not a big band – we’re working on it, but it’s hard work. It’s an opportunity to add another city to the places we’ve played.
It’s hard work gradually building up a fanbase in various places.
Definitely and it’s harder these days because in the old day you had companies that invested money in bands but that happens very rarely nowadays – companies don’t earn enough from record sales to do that. Normally bands are on their own these days which has advantages and disadvantages. The advantage is artistically you can do whatever you want but then you don’t have the tools to get the music to the people.
While the internet lets bands get music to people, there are thousands of bands all trying to do the same, so it’s hard for a band to stand out from the crowd to get the attention of fans.
It’s very difficult these days. I’ve got experience from previous bands in another era, nowadays it’s the most difficult it’s been. There’s been a surge in covers bands and tribute bands – it’s easier for them to play songs people know. Radio is not the power tool it was before. Yes you’ve got the internet but it’s so saturated and people are very spoilt – as Andy Warhol said years ago, everyone has 15 minutes of fame, then the next one comes along. When was the last time a really big rock or metal band came along? There hasnt been one for years. Five finger death punch, they put money in it, then in this country, maybe Bullet for my valentine were the last. There aren’t any metal bands getting big. It’s more underground these days.
It’s not the quality of the bands, it’s the budgets. There are very good bands around and the quality of musicianship is better than the past – the internet opened lots of doors. In the past you learnt your instrument on your own but these days you open youtube and there are loads of people teaching you how to play. In a way the level of musicianship is very high but it’s getting to the people. People are lazy which is why covers bands do well, but even that is getting saturated – in the past month as a sound engineer I’ve seen something like 4 or 5 Black Sabbath tributes, 7 Bon Jovi tributes – there are so many of each, ACDC, Motorhead since Lemmy died – it’s so saturated. It’s not my thing – you’re not making your own music, you’re just imitating someone else and you’re always going to stay at that same level.