Celebrating the Land – From Heathens to Wildernessking

WildernesskingHeathens were a breakaway band in 2010, writing music very much at odds to the Cape Town (and indeed, South African) black metal scene, while still retaining the ethos behind the music. Earlier this year the band changed their name to Wildernessking to tie in to their distribution deal with Antithetic Records. We spoke to frontman Keenan Oakes (ex-The Horror Cast) about the evolution of the band and where the music will take them in the future.

What prompted the name change from Heathens to Wildernessking? Was it a gradual
evolution or a sudden decision?

We understood that a name change would be beneficial to the band, and perhaps necessary, after we released the “Morning” single. This was the first song we had recorded as a four-piece and the recent addition of a second guitarist had given us the opportunity to focus more on our songwriting, as we were now able to layer our sound more effectively. This introduced us to new atmospheres, dynamics, and even melodies which were previously unobtainable while adopting our usual “plug-and-play” approach.

A few of us had thought about a possible name change in our own time, and when the suggestion was finally raised, the process was a quick one. Everything clicked. Under Wildernessking we have the chance to embrace new musical and non-musical elements, and express them in ways which seemed restricted under our old moniker.

Obviously the new name evokes nature and is a lot less aggressive-sounding than Heathens. Has this change of attitude filtered into the music?

In our opinion, the recent material is probably more aggressive-sounding than anything we have previously written. The change in identity has definitely filtered through and affected our band, enabling us to sharpen our musical direction, while concentrating more on the band’s aesthetic and artistic output.

As far as the natural aspect is concerned, the new songs are more organic and free-flowing in comparison to our work in the past. We approached the songwriting on this album in a new way and it seemed to play a vital role in helping us create our sound.

Can you mention your influences and how they affect the band’s writing? What is the writing process like?

We agree that there are a few bands who have collectively inspired us to form the foundation of our sound, and while we might appreciate similar bands, we each have wildly different personal influences when it comes to the instruments we play, and how we approach our individual role in the band. Those personal traits add an interesting
factor to the songwriting, and often steer us away from a direction we would have initially taken in the song.

The writing process is a collaborative one. The songs are formed around a musical idea, whether it be a pre-existing riff or a mental image of the song’s flow.

Based on the new material played at recent shows, Wildernessking still sounds unquestionably Black Metal but without the image traditionally associated with it. What prompted the band to approach such an orthodox genre in this way?

We definitely try to draw influence from various strains of black metal but as a South African band, we can’t embrace the imagery traditionally associated with this genre, as it seems foreign to us.

South Africa has its own landscapes, natural beauty and unique heritage to explore. In our band, that is where the bulk of our inspiration comes from. Emulating the imagery synonymous with traditional black metal would inhibit us from telling our own story, one which celebrates the land, and the times in which we all live.

Is there any particular philosophy behind the music and lyrics?

A philosophical backdrop exists, encapsulating an appreciation of and respect towards nature, with a heathenized and misanthropic undertone.

Wildernessking in Studio

Your style of black metal has evolved primarily in the US. Why do you think this is, what bands originated it, and most importantly does it belong in South Africa?

We’re big fans of the atmospheric black metal movement that has risen from strength to strength over the last few years. However, the contrasting influences within our band, at times, draw us away from this particular sub genre.

The “Morning” single, although atmospheric in nature, hints at the rockier aspect of our sound and what is to come on our debut full length.

We can only hope that our style of music resonates well with the people here as Wildernessking will always be a South African band.

What can fans of the band expect on the full-length? How will the material differ from Heathens’ releases?

The material is more focused. It was written during 5 months of pre-production between November 2010 and March 2011, and granted us the opportunity to really flesh the material out, letting our musical instincts dictate the outcome of a song.

Our debut album, The Writing of Gods in the Sand, is a result of us exploring different avenues, both musically and lyrically. Because of this, the songs vary in mood, pace and structure.

Once the full-length is released, will fans still be able to hear Heathens material at live shows?

We really enjoyed playing as Heathens, and we don’t want to distance ourselves from that chapter in our musical history, but we also want to embrace this newly refined phase of our band. We plan to continue playing the old material at shows, although not very often.

Can you touch briefly on your distribution deal with Antithetic Records? How do you think working with a US based distribution company will affect the band?

Shawn from Antithetic Records contacted us after hearing the “Morning” single and expressed his interest in working with the band. We were very excited to be involved with this US based label and could only see it affecting the band in a positive manner.

Subsequently, the deal has enabled us to reach a wider audience, as our upcoming album will now be available worldwide on both CD and vinyl.

Where do you see Wildernessking going in the next few years?

We have been working hard on The Writing of Gods in the Sand in order to create the best possible representation of Wildernessking. Our next chapter begins with the release of this album, and where this might take us we do not know.

How does your time with Heathens/Wildernessking differ to fronting your previous band, The Horror Cast?

It’s a completely different experience as I’ve had the opportunity to be involved in the writing and arrangement of a song, rather than only coming aboard for the vocal and lyrical phase of the process.

Handling both vocal and bass duties has been an interesting challenge, yet one that has been fulfilling.

Is it true that the song “River” is about your dog?

No, although they are both called River, I wasn’t the one who suggested the name for my dog. Just how I thought it was a fitting name, I also thought it was an appropriate song title that complimented the others on the album. That’s the extent of the connection, although many ties exist between our band and personal life.

Thank you for your time and all the best with Wildernessking! We will be watching intently.

The Writing of Gods in the Sand is set to be released by Antithetic Recourds in October 2011. Watch fan-filmed footage of “The Return” below.