A Familiar Face Graces Swedish Doom Metal Band, Draconian

First off: “What the hell is doom?” I hear some of you ask, “Is it something to do with a computer game?”
Doom metal is a sub-genre that enjoys very little appreciation in South African territory, with only a small but fiercely loyal fan-base. Regardless, we’ve still seen our own pittance share of local doom acts over the years, particularly during what one might describe as the doom ‘heyday’ of the mid-nineties. Cape Town band Grämlich played a big part in creating genre awareness back then, and SA greats V.O.D (Voice Of Destruction – not USA’s later Vision Of Disorder) even went so far as to record at the same studio (Academy Studio, Yorkshire) as bands such as My Dying Bride, Paradise Lost and Anathema (nicknamed “The Peaceville Three” or “The Holy Trinity” in local doom circles). Although V.O.D were never specifically doom, some of their music clearly drew from influences of the time which had impacted a legion of doom bands from around the world. Some also like to describe doom as metal which incorporates more gothic (old-school goth) components in terms of vocal styles and instrumentation sensibilities. One person, who we will be talking about in some detail in this article, even described it to me in a conversation long ago as: “metal doesn’t always have to be ugly or brutal; its allowed to be pretty sometimes”. But if you really want a definition of doom, there is always Wickipedia or tons of forums clogged with opinionated ‘experts’ who I’m sure will be only too happy to enlighten you. To me, doom is a feeling I get when I listen to certain bands music. To me, it is music which represents a perfect balance between beauty and brutality; much like as can be symbolized by something as ordinary and natural as a rose – beautiful to behold, but bristled with blood-thirsty thorns. Ironically, I’m sure that many who know Heike Langhans (also known by some as Heike Van Dominic) personally would jest that she shares much the same character of the rose described!

Amongst the humble ranks of doom fans residing in South Africa, there cannot be one who does not know and love the Swedish band Draconian. When it became known that Lisa Johansson had left the band (for reasons mostly attributed to her becoming a mother), nobody in South Africa had imagined, or even risked a hope, that one of our own might stand up to the task of filling the vacancy. Well… one did, and she quietly went through the motions and succeeded. We caught up with Heike on a brief stint back to her home country of South Africa recently, as she needed to brush up on some paperwork from various embassies since moving to Sweden earlier in this year. We wanted to get to know a little more about how she came into this opportunity, and the virtually life-long preparation that had led to it.

Descendant of German grandparents who immigrated to Southern Africa as means to escape the turmoil of wartime Europe, Heike grew up her whole life of African-born parents in the Southern-most city of Cape Town. She describes music has having been an ever present companion since a young age, and Heike is encouraged by the fact that her father is also very musical. Having taken lessons in guitar and piano from a young age, and being a part of junior school choir, Heike had also begun to lay a solid foundation for her own musical journey; that which ultimately lead her towards this union with Draconian. “I grew bored of singing in a group when I began to feel I could stand out and develop a voice and style of my own,” says Heike, “I eventually ditched the choir efforts and started writing songs and singing on my own.” After a short time working with a vocal coach, Heike decided again that the artistic explorer inside of her was being stifled. “The style was more operatic, but somehow I felt it was not for me. I felt that the training often strips a singer of the raw emotion and becomes too polished.” With her independent and exploratory spirit, it was only a matter of time until she grew towards the bands scene. At that point, which was when she joined a symphonic metal band, Heike set her focus towards singing only, leaving her playing of instruments by the wayside. “Not a smart move, I’d say,” she admits, “I took to the role of singer quite comfortably, but I do still play occasionally when I focus on writing my own music.” She further describes the experience of being in that band as a very necessary part of finding herself. It was her time of learning about her potential as a live performer, and by the time the project had ground to a halt she was ready for “other things, rather than bigger things.” Heike used the time after that at furthering her development behind the scenes; mostly by doing some recordings and sending them to people whose opinions she felt could be trusted, and taking the time she felt she needed.

At this point in our chat, I wanted to learn more about Heike’s Lorelei project. I like to think that years from now, I can be all pompous and cheeky, telling people how I followed Draconian’s lovely new ‘she-voice’ in her days of churning out solo demo songs.
“Lorelei will always be there” she replied. “Although its only demo songs, they do play a big part in my life. But Draconian is my main focus now. I’ve had opportunities to redo some of the songs, but felt terrified of reopening wounds that some of them bring. They represent a side of me that I am unable to express otherwise, and finishing each song was like closing an emotional chapter in my life which I’d best not revisit.” Heike explained that she had received such heart-felt response from those songs and that was enough for her. “Maybe Lorelei is just my back-seat musical diary and should remain that way” she concluded.

On that note, we shifted attention back to the present and to what the future holds. All this talk of emotion got me eager to hear how she felt about being announced as a member of Draconian.
“I can honestly say that this is all I’ve ever wanted. I knew what kind of band I wanted to start or join, and doom fans in South Africa all know how hard that would be. Not only is Draconian one of the sole inspirations and initiators of my dream, but ironically, I’ve been telling myself that in my lifetime I’d probably never get to be a part of something even nearly like Draconian. Being chosen from a list of so many talented singers has just made me realize how much I have still been underestimating myself all along. I can finally allow myself to be excited about something for a change.”

Of course, there is always the good, the bad, and the ugly. The music of Draconian has occupied the hearts of loyal supporters for many years now, and the band has established an identity which has been very inclusive of Lisa Johansson’s stunning voice. It is clear that many have been holding their breath since Lisa’s departure (close on a year now, so faces are turning purple), with all of their hopes and fears hanging in the balance. I wanted to hear from Heike how she was prepared for this, knowing that it is wholly possible that not everybody will be pleased at her unveiling.
“I’ve been a big fan of Lisa myself for years. So, in a way, I’m just another one of that critical fan-base. When Lisa left, I was also cursing and wondering just who were they going to find to fill her shoes. Well, the jokes on me! I saw the way that some fans of Nightwish and Tristania were reacting to member replacements and I realized that this may be my fate, so I set to work on being mentally prepared for the worst. So far, the responses on the release of the Lake Of Tears tribute have been good. I’m just going to take it as it comes and try rather to focus on the future and on the band. Draconian fans are true supporters and have shown good faith in the decisions of the band so far and that leaves me at peace. I always say ‘you cant clone singers’. Each person has their own perks and you never know what magic the next one might bring. I know its natural that people will always compare the new from the previous, but I myself understand that singing someone else’s songs will never be as perfect as singing in your own way and playing to your own strengths. In time, fans will get to hear the new material and see how well it works without having to compare. I’m incredibly excited for the task ahead, because I live for this kind of music and that might just be what gives Draconian the force to be even greater.”

In a closing statement, I chose to dig back to a reference from earlier in our conversation which I thought would be apt for our South African readers especially; since we all are very isolated from the world where an actual music industry exists, and where hopes and dreams can be fulfilled if one is prepared to work hard for them. Also, it is so often that we feel broken down, and we get the impression sometimes that our own peers would tread on us to grab that small ‘piece of pie’ that can’t even feed one person. Heike said: “I always tell myself that no matter how many people dislike what you do, there’s always the same amount of people that will relate to it.” At M4A, we can certainly vouch for that sentiment and wish Heike all the best on the journey that lies ahead.

Listen to Draconian‘s cover of “Demon You / Lily Anne”, featuring Heike, here.

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