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Jurgen Bruder - Heathen Foray

Interview with Jurgen Bruder from Heathen Foray
by Kira Schlechter at 25 April 2020, 4:37 AM

The Austrian melodic death metal band HEATHEN FORAY rather listened to the will of the people for their latest album, the excellent “Weltenwandel.” Sung entirely in German, it’s an emotional journey through the human condition, examining self-determination and societal pressure and even touching on a bit of political commentary.

Guitarist Jurgen Bruder provided some terrifically thorough insight into the band’s fifth album in a fantastic email interview with Metal Temple writer Kira Schlechter; his responses to questions are below.

Obviously this is your first album done completely in German, so why was this record the time to do that?

For a long time, we were convinced that we need to write lyrics in English, otherwise no one outside the German-speaking world would care. Still, we usually included one or two German songs on each record. As we progressed from album to album, we noticed that these songs seem to be the fan favorites. We soon realized that had nothing to do with the language, but with (singer Robert Schroll) being able to better express himself in German, not just with writing the words, but also with the emotion that he can put into his voice. This made us consider doing an album completely in German.

As to why this was the right time: Our last record came out in 2015. In those five years, a lot changed in regards (to) how people consume music. Streaming was not a big thing back then, but it is now. With that, we also gained more insight into what songs people are actually listening to and where they are listening. This made us realize the popularity of our German songs in countries like the U.S., the U.K., even Finland.

Are the lyrical themes you discuss more potent, more effective, more meaningful in German, and if so, why?

I think it is. Writing lyrics in your first language always gives you a bit more emotional vocabulary to work with. German is a very poetic language. It helped us to give the lyrics a whole other level of meaning that hopefully can also be picked up by non-German speakers.

The music on this album is so powerful and evocative and really guides and shapes the emotion in each track – talk about that and if you indeed focused on that considering the album would not be in English?

This was absolutely the case when shaping this record. We realized that this time, not everyone will get the meaning of the songs by reading the lyrics. Therefore, the music must make a bigger effort to support the meaning and emotion. When I sat down to write the songs, I put a core emotion to each of them. So basically, I was saying, I want to write a song that communicates ‘fear’ or ‘euphoria.’ I tried to get myself into this emotion and then just write. At the same time, Robert could sit down and think about lyrics that would fit this emotion. At the end, we (did) not always stick to this, but it gave us a blueprint for the record and a starting point for each song.

Is the translation of the album title, “World Changer,” correct? Can you talk about what it means on its own and in the context of the album (and why it was suitable for the title)? Would you say there is a story here?

I think that "the changing of the world" would be closer to the German meaning, but the theme would be the same. It is inspired by the change that we saw happening in the world and how it influenced us as artists. The stylistic direction is very much reflected in the world we live in. Our albums tended to sound very happy. But that's definitely not how we felt during the songwriting process. The whole world felt like we were going down the drain – selfishness, hatred, destruction, environmental issues, right-wing assholes were on the rise in Austria. Hope for a bright future faded, and with it, our own thoughts became darker. This influence(d) the creative process.

The only thing we thought was possible to improve the world was following one's own path to better oneself, and therefore the world. All songs kind of connect to this theme, but they are not interconnected by an overall story.

What part do you play in the writing process?

For this particular album, I wrote most of the initial music. As we bounce ideas off each other, everyone contributes, and the music becomes more mature and refined. Lyrics were almost all done by Robert, except for "Monolith," which he and I did together.

A new thing for this album was that we recorded it completely ourselves, which also made me the recording engineer and producer. However, we did not mix it ourselves. We worked with our good friend Adam Train from the U.K. He is a genius mixing engineer and producer. He contributed a ton of production ideas which we will be forever grateful for.

Are you predominantly the lead player or is that Alexander?

(Guitarist Alex Wildinger) and I both play leads and rhythm. Usually, the guy who wrote the leads will play them in the song. I wouldn't say that there is one lead guitar player in the band – there (are) just two guitarists. If you ask which one of us is the better player, I will give this honor to Alex without a shadow of a doubt. He is a better player in every way. This of course makes the other guys better at bass, vocals, and drums than me. So, by default, I am the worst musician in the band, which I kind of love – I have to struggle with each album to keep up with the guys!

Can you talk about your influences as a guitarist, because you both have such a strong ear for melody, not just leads but riffs as well?

I am a huge fan of André Olbrich (BLIND GUARDIAN). His playing gave me a lot of inspiration for the early HEATHEN FORAY stuff and keeps on giving until this day. Another strong influence on my writing and playing is Jari Mäenpää (WINTERSUN). His almost orchestral approach to songwriting is the level of excellence I want to achieve one day. Recently, I am super influenced by Devin Townsend. He gave me the idea of centering a song around an emotion.

Alex often goes into a more power/thrash metal direction with his work, which I consider to be the perfect (counterpoint) to my moody, emotional stuff. I think Alex’s songs always make the album whole. This is the first album where we both were involved in the songwriting at the same time, and it shows in the maturity of the songs. What we both have in common is a love for melody and hooks. If a song does not stay with you after you heard it, we consider it bad. In German, we call this an "Ohrwurm" (earworm), which means that a song needs to be super catchy!

Talk a little about the opener, “Schicksalsknecht” – it definitely sets the mood soundwise for the entire album…

We knew early that this would be the opener – the intro is just too perfect for the start of an album. It is also a musical statement (about) the whole album, as it is the song with the least amount of "classic" HEATHEN FORAY trademarks. There is no chorus accompanied by a lead guitar, there are no solos – it is way darker and more death metal than we used to be. We thought, if people dig this one, they will love the rest of the album. If they do not, we at least save them some time!

The title would translate to "Slave of Destiny" in terms of how some cultures think that whatever you do is already predetermined. You are basically a slave to your own destiny, so you better get comfy and just roll with it. This was inspired by "I cannot change the world (for) the better, I am just a small piece of the puzzle.” The song tries to mimic the emotion of feeling overpowered, by destiny and (by) the world around you. It is told from the perspective of your destiny as it overpowers you.

“Essenz” (or “Essence”) definitely has a folk feel to it with the 6/8 tempo – what inspired that? And can you talk about the significance of the title?

This is the song we built around the emotion "euphoria," and it shows. This is more in line with how our records used to sound. Lyrically, it deals with the exact opposite of "Schicksalsknecht" – being immensely positive about taking your life into your own hands. It's kind of the other side of the gloomy "everything sucks" coin. It is the "not all is bad, and you can make a difference" side. This we consider the essence, the spice if you will, of a good life. The protagonist in the song realizes that what he or she needs to be happy is striking a healthy balance between all things.

“Tanz” (or “Dance”) has that military marching feel, and from my very rough translating of the lyrics, it’s about just that, like marching off to war or dealing with conflict as a sort of dance – can you talk about that?

You are absolutely right. "Tanz" is lyrically about society demanding a specific way of living or behavior from you – "A woman has to have children, otherwise she has no worth,” "A man must be strong and not show emotions” – stuff that gets imprinted on you at a very early age. We say one’s body is inviolable, subject to one’s own will alone. So is one’s way of life! You should choose which kind of person you are and no one else.

(It’s) written from the perspective of a repressive society that wants to keep everyone in line. All must (move) to this "dance" and follow the steps exactly, like puppets, if you will – no individualism wanted, everyone tied to strings. And in the end, the people need to be thankful for being able to do that "dance" their whole life and thank the "puppet masters" for the experience. The emotion I chose for this song was "anger.”

When I said that German suits the music well, it really does in something like “Verfall” (or “Decay”) – which was decided first, to do the album in German and then the songs were written, or the other way around?

It's always music first for us. Robert writes the best lyrics if he has constraints. In this case, he knew the musical groundwork for the song. After that, we will have many iterations of both music and lyrics until both fit each other in the best way possible.

Can you talk about what it might have been referring to?

The song deals with the decay of society and the world as a whole. It is told from the point of view of a decaying world order that has hope that something better will soon come along. I guess the emotion, if you can call it that, is the feeling of knowing that one’s end is near, feeling death approaching. The music also becomes "duller" and less "exciting" as the song goes on to mimic the decay. The outro is basically the last breath as it slows to a grinding halt.

It was interesting how you designated “Weg” as specifically being Side Two – why was that? Do you prefer a translation for the title (the word has several meanings), like which meaning does it have here?

"Weg" has two meanings in German, it means "path" and also "that something is gone.” There was no real reason why this is opening side two – it felt like a logical position after "Verfall" and before "Monolith" to bring a bit more up-tempo to the table.

This song was written by Alex; we then arranged it to fit the rest of the album. The emotion here is the need of "getting away" from things. We have a word for it in German: "fernweh" or "wanderlust". Obviously, when you are going on a journey, you are "gone" from home, often leaving something behind. But sometimes the "path" just keeps calling and you have to answer its call. So "weg" works in both meanings of the word in German. The protagonist describes how he is only really free when he is away from everything. Sometimes your heart just burns and demands to fly.

“Monolith” of course is the longest track and it’s constructed almost like movements in classical music – can you talk about that?

I always do one song on an album where I disregard all rules for a “commercially successful” song. These tend to be very long and experimental. It tells the story of a person (who is) told that he will amount to nothing and that all struggle fails eventually. These are the whispering voices you hear at the beginning.

It would seem to be a pivotal point in the action of the album…

The protagonist then argues with himself if he should dare to defy the voices and just go for his dream – (that) of finding a legendary monolith (that) promises the fulfillment of all his dreams. We follow the protagonist through the struggles of climbing over the souls that tried to find the monolith before him but failed, just like the voices told them (they would). As he reaches the monolith, he consumes all its power, only to realize that he is still not satisfied. He falls back into doubt and despair. The emotion I used here was "doubt" and then worked my way up to "superiority.”

This is all just a clever way of saying (that) when we write a new album, usually we are super afraid and self-conscious. As we write more and near the finish line, we start to be super convinced and become stronger. Then we finally release the album (i.e. touching the monolith), and then realize we are already seeing the next one on the horizon (i.e. having to write the next album). We have to start all over again.

If “Soldat” translates to “Soldier,” it’s a perfect melding of music and lyrics – can you talk about that (it’s kind of like “Tanz” in that regard, that it has that lockstep marching feel)?

You got that right again. "Soldat" is kind of a brother to "Tanz.” This time, we tell the story of a soldier (who) ends up in a situation that he did not choose. Someone made a decision somewhere and suddenly you have to go and join a war. However, we also explore the (idea) of peaceful resistance, of just laying down your weapon and not participat(ing). If someone wants a war, he should be there in the first row fighting himself. Again, this mirrors our theme of "only you should choose your way.

The closer, “Schlangengrube” translates to “Snake Pit” – what is that referring to?

We see the "snakes" as a collection of people spreading misinformation and lies – politicians lying to get their way, news outlets spreading rumors to get more viewers, social media personalities exploiting fears to get more followers, etc. The song is a call to revolution, to put all the "snakes" into a "pit" to shut them up.

We would love to experience a system change in this regard. We are fed up with greed for money and power. Someday, people will see the lies. At some point, they will act. At some point, hopefully everything will change for the better.

This is again a song by Alex that we then arranged as a team to fit the album. We felt (it needed) a powerful ending. The lyrics actually contain the name of the album, "Weltenwandel voran!" With the rest of the chorus it translates loosely to:

World change ahead!
And we, each one of us, paves the way for it.
A new era is dawning.
Fate reshuffled the cards!

This is trying to bundle all the songs together in a couple of lines. Yes, the world often seems grim and hopeless. When we wrote that, we could not yet imagine what 2020 would bring. However, the only way to make things better is to contribute in whatever way possible, be it an improvement in your own life or in the lives of others. And this is what each song on this album is about – a different perspective on the subject but always with a silver lining.

That silver lining admittedly is a little dimmer these days. Like every other band, HEATHEN FORAY has tour dates planned for the summer and fall, but Jurgen said anything planned through August 31 “will most likely not happen.” He added that anything cancelled will be rescheduled.

“Germany and Austria have forbidden all concerts and festivals until (then),” he said. “This basically kills the whole festival season. A lot of them will not recover, especially the smaller festivals. This will leave a vacuum and less opportunities to play for lesser known bands.”

He’s disappointed by that, but is realistic as well.

“We totally understand why it is not possible to play live right now and why it is important to cancel these shows,” he said. “We do not want our fans to get in danger or to become sick – actually, we do not want anyone to get into danger or become sick!”

And he understands it’s the entire industry that is suffering from the sudden lack of income, especially working musicians who rely on playing live and the cast of thousands that supports them. He said the Austrian government is “already supporting creative professionals financially,” but adds it “could probably do way more in this regard.”

“The bigger issue I am seeing here are the venues and booking companies that rely on the income that our shows generate,” he said. “We are just a bunch of semi-pro musicians (who) all have jobs on the side – we still can pay rent if we do not play live.

“However, the people that make these shows possible for us – the venue operators, mixing engineers, (lighting engineers), merch (people), bookers – they are hit super hard by this. They have basically no jobs for half a year, if not longer. Again, we understand why. But we hope that all these music professionals that are depending on the income will get help in some way,” he added.

Jurgen was philosophical about the down time, however, and even had room for a little album-related humor.

“Yes, it is a bummer that the pandemic hit just after we released the record – if we would have known that the world would take our album title so seriously (‘Weltenwandel’ = ‘world change’), we would have called it something else,” he joked.

“From a personal perspective, the quarantine provides a lot of time to be creative and to reflect,” he said. “I hope we get some new songs out of this, at least. However, it is hard to motivate yourself right now, as the perspective “why do it if you may never play this live” is missing a bit.

“So I would recommend staying home, listening to ‘Weltenwandel,’ and join(ing) us on the musical journey we explored above,” he said.


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