Band To Watch: Heriot
When Heriot put out the EP Profound Morality last year, they went from an anonymous part of the glut of metal bands populating UK scenes like the one in their hometown of Swindon, to one of the country’s most hyped heavy exports. Kerrang! called them the best new metal band in Britain, while NME named them one of the reasons there’s “never been a better time to be a UK metalhead.”
The EP is pretty fantastic. It’s punishingly heavy, but slow-paced; punishing in the sense of crawling through the desert with no water. There’ll be long stretches of ambient industrial noise or creepily sedate clean parts, then a burst of double-kick pedal pummelling and tortured screaming. Heriot are fairly reticent in discussing what their lyrics are about, but they do share that Profound Morality was an attempt at exploring harm, corruption, wealth, and moral grey areas. They wrote it during 2020 pandemic lockdowns, a time during which the Tory government was throwing vulnerable people under the bus while helping their friends profit from healthcare PPE contracts — so these were things weighing heavily on the mind of a lot of us in the UK.
The band started with the trio of Jake Packer (vocals/bass), Erhan Alman (guitar) and Julian Gage (drums), who met as teenagers in the unglamorous town of Swindon, near Bristol. They added vocalist/guitarist Debbie Gough — from Birmingham, the birthplace of metal — a few years later. She proved to be the secret weapon the band needed. Gough’s vocals are brutal, and her guitar leads are a major part of what elevates the band above the pack.
Since the release of the EP, Heriot have toured with some of their heroes like Lamb Of God, Rolo Tomassi, and Zeal & Ardor, and played some of the world’s biggest metal festivals including Download and Wacken Open Air. They haven’t been to the US yet, but things are likely gonna scale up after today’s news — they’ve signed to Century Media and are putting out a new single, “Soul Chasm.” It’s one of their more straightforwardly heavy offerings, featuring unearthly dual vocals and lyrics about “gravelled palms and bloody nails.” They’re also in the middle of writing a new album. During a writing session, Gough and Alman spoke to us about their future, their history and their creative process.
You guys have put out a couple of singles this year; what can you tell us about the current era of Heriot?
ERHAN ALMAN: On the EP I guess we were dipping our toe in a lot of different things that we really like. We don’t just like heavy stuff, we all have different bits of music that we’re really passionate about and wanna explore. So moving forward, the heavier stuff is heavier, the more experimental stuff is getting weirder and wilder. We’re not tunnel-visioned as a band, and when people listen to us they know a lot of different things will come from us. So yeah, we’re kinda just flexing our muscles a little bit.
What are some of the things outside of heavy music that you’ve been influenced by?
DEBBIE GOUGH: I really like the band Wand. They’re an indie, shoegaze band, but their album Golem really influenced me to dive into the more atmospheric bits within our band and play around with those different soundscapes. And to be honest, Billie Eilish as well. I really like her songwriting, the way that she pieces together her songs, and her vocals as well have really influenced me on my clean vocals.
ALMAN: We like Health and Godflesh as well. Jake very much was the member of the band that brought us all onto that. I think it’s good to understand that heavy doesn’t just have to be zeroes and ones on the guitar. It can be atmospheric stuff, it can be industrial elements. It just becomes a bit of a melting pot. And we’re very good at not red-taping — if someone has an idea we let everyone try it and give it a go. You hear maybe a bridge and you think, ‘Okay, well, it has to be this if it’s a metal song,’ but it doesn’t have to be with us, which I think is the best thing about being the band that we are.
How did you guys first get into metal, when you were younger? ALMAN: In my household, unlike the rest of the guys in the band, my parents weren’t very musical. So there was a bit of a rebellious side, I wanted to branch out and listen to something different. So I got into Green Day, and then a lot of pop-punk like Blink-182. Then Jake and Julian, who are the other members of the band, are old school friends of mine. They grew up around music, listening to music, and they were kind of already ahead in terms of the heavier spectrum. So they showed me Slipknot and Korn. At that point coming from a household that did not listen to metal, this was just a whole new rabbit hole to go down, and that’s kind of been it ever since.
GOUGH: We had music on in our family car all the time. We had Sabbath albums, Led Zeppelin, Metallica, Judas Priest. So I always associated car rides with music — as long as I existed, in a car, there was heavy rock or metal going on.
Your parents were metalheads?
GOUGH: Yeah, they’re into heavy rock and bits of metal. I think our stuff is a bit too far for them. It’s too far for my mum — my dad likes the guitar tones. But they’re really supportive.
Then because I’d been exposed to bigger bands quite early, there was just a whole new world to get deeper and deeper into. So I went through hard rock and then metal and then heavy metal, and then thrash and noise and black metal and hardcore and punk. I feel like it really anchored me into loving heavy music as much as I do — I was able to almost have a second wind of falling in love with heavy music, because I just dove into it on another level. Especially playing in bands when I was like 17, 18; there were styles of music that nobody had ever put in front of me before, like mathcore and math rock and stuff like that. That was really cool, to discover a whole new world.
How did Debbie and the rest of the band meet?
ALMAN: So at the time, Heriot was very much in its infancy. We did like four songs for an EP we did way back when which has since been scrubbed from the internet. But yeah, we were just looking for bands to open a show for us, but we weren’t so well-connected at that point — we’d made a few friends but none of them sounded as heavy as we wanted. And then we played a show in Bristol at the Stag & Hounds, and [Gough’s old band] were maybe before us or after us, I can’t remember.
GOUGH: Yeah, and then we really loved Heriot’s show, so we were really excited to talk to you afterwards. Then stayed in touch and then went to festivals together and went to shows together and started hanging out together. And then you needed a guitarist.
What did you bond over when you first met?
ALMAN: I was kind of like gushing about how cool they were live. We both have a love for the Chariot and Dillinger — if you can watch a band’s live show literally on mute and it be as entertaining as if you were listening to them, I think that’s key. And you can tell that Deb’s old band definitely loved those sort of bands, ’cause they were just insane, and I was just like, yeah, this is wicked.
GOUGH: We spoke about them all the way in the car journey to wherever the next gig was.
ALMAN: I think we did as well, yeah.
GOUGH: That’s so nice!
There’s a lot of really great heavy music coming out in the US, but the UK is holding its own too. How do you guys think the approach to heavy music differs here in the UK?
GOUGH: I always think that there’s a lot of individuality within the UK. When I was younger and there were up-and-coming bands, it was a lot of the same — like metalcore was in, or like straight-up metal. [Now] it feels as though there’s lot of different genres of heavy coming up, but also within that, there’s a real sense of self within each band. And I feel as though a lot of people in bands that we know have been doing it for the best part of 10 years, so the community that we have in the UK is quite secure, where people feel like they’re allowed to express themselves a little bit more and there’s that kind of safety in being able to try stuff, with your sound and with your branding and with your image.
I feel as well, it’s quite easy to get to know most bands within the UK, because the gigging circuit is quite small. So the friendships that you make are easier because you see people more often, and you’re more influenced by other bands because you’re seeing them more regularly. Whereas maybe in the US, I would imagine you might play with a band and then not see them for a while. If we play in Bristol and you make friends in Bristol, that’s like two hours away rather than ten.
Are there any bands from the UK you would name that represent that individuality you’re talking about?
GOUGH: CLT DRP is always one that comes to mind. I can’t think of a band that sounds anything like them at all. Sylosis and Malevolence are flying the flag for metal at the moment. Static Dress are really cool.
ALMAN: If I wasn’t in a band, I’m pretty sure all the ones we’ve played with and are friends with would be favorite bands of mine that I would be constantly going to shows of. So yeah, it’s wicked to be in the UK music scene.
You guys wrote Profound Morality at the height of the pandemic. Did those circumstances influence how that EP turned out?
GOUGH: I think so, yeah. I think a lot of the points that we were trying to make come down to those two factors of wealth and class and how those influence the way that the world runs, or the way that life goes. And obviously speaking about the concept of morality and how class and wealth comes into that, that was really the most prominent time for everybody to think about it as a world. The divide was very, very clear and there was no real way of disguising that. And things were kinda tipped on its head, like key workers being people who previously the government would not have praised as key workers at all. I think it just allowed for you to ask more and more questions which led to the broader theme of the EP. I think that rhetoric of wealth and class during COVID definitely made a lasting impression us.
ALMAN: It’s one of those things that you can always try and ignore it, but it will always be affecting you in some way. [So] with things like that there’s always gonna be some angst and some drive and some fire as a result. I think it was also like, at that time, I remember people that I worked with all of a sudden had nothing to do. A lot of people will just work to get paid to pay your bills, have a holiday now and again, and then that’s it, your life will just [be] taken over. And we were all like, thank god we have something outside of our day jobs that we love and we’re passionate about. So I think when the opportunity was there, and we could see austerity ticking along as it has been for so long, we had a bit more of a fire in our belly when we were writing music.
You’re now writing a new album. What’s coming out of that and what are your aims for it?
ALMAN: It’s still quite bare bones at the moment, so there’s not really much I can say, ’cause it might totally change by the time we step into the room. But we’ve all had a lot of time to play shows, to see what other people vibe with, to learn a bit more about ourselves and what we vibe with. We started writing a lot of it in March. We kinda put it on the backburner, did all the shows over the summer, and now we’re revisiting it. And even listening to some of the stuff now, it’s just like, that doesn’t work. Initially when we were writing it was just like, yeah, that riff’s cool, let’s try this, let’s put this section in. And it was just about us. And yes, ultimately, we write music we love, but [now we’re] kinda thinking about how you’re connecting to other people; how you’re writing every song off an album potentially to be someone’s favorite song. You don’t just think, oh, that song’s a filler song. There’s a lot of external elements that we’re bringing into this a bit more seriously.
Heriot have had a huge few years in terms of gigs and tours. How do you think you’ve developed as a live band through that?
GOUGH: Before COVID, I think the biggest show we played was maybe like 400-cap. And that felt like a huge deal to us. And of course it is, we’re still stoked to play those kind of venues. But we were kind of thrown into a different mindset. There were a lot of new things to us — like having a monitor guy on stage. I always still talk to the sound man, I’ve never got used to that. But yeah, I think being able to think of your band as something with longevity has been a big reason for us wanting to play live so much. Now we think about things like where we wanna be with production and intros and things like that, and how will the crowd respond to this bit?
ALMAN: Yeah. I think there’s always those external pressures as well. ‘Cause yeah, before, we literally just kind of turned up, plugged in, played, and that was it. And there’s definitely still that element of us now. But at the time we were doing that, no one really knew who we were. And now, Kerrang! for example have been saying we’re one of the best bands in the UK. So naturally, we have to think about things that we do. Especially playing in Europe this year — literally, people who do not speak the same language as you, how are they gonna enjoy that as [much as] someone who understands the lyrics and things like that? So there’s a lot of things that have changed in our mindsets. And especially the longevity side of it. We all wanna do this until we can’t do it anymore. But yeah, we’ve been enriched with so much experience over the last few years, which we’re super grateful for. I don’t think a lot of bands have done the amount of stuff we’ve managed to do.