Heriot were the first band on the smallest stage of Download Festival last June. As they strode out onto the stage with the churning industrial track ‘Abaddon’ blasting from the speakers, the tent was heaving with fans chanting their name. This was only two months after they released their debut EP, ‘Profound Morality’, but in this tent, they were already far from unknowns. If that doesn’t point to the hype, what does?
The Swindon-via-Birmingham metallers’ live CV hasn’t stopped growing. In the last year, they’ve appeared in the NME 100, and been on the road with Rolo Tomassi, and sweltered under 35 degree heat in front of the biggest crowd of their lives at Derbyshire’s Bloodstock Festival. This month, they’re opening for their childhood heroes Lamb Of God at a one-off show in Norwich, before heading out to conquer summer festivals where they’re perhaps outsiders: the punk-oriented Slam Dunk in June, and the pop-focused Standon Calling the following month, where they’re playing on the same day as Self Esteem.
Now that Heriot have started to move beyond the underground, they’ve determined to bring their take on metal to the masses. “I love playing metal shows, but it’s nice every now and again to play the odd non-metal bill,” says vocalist and bassist Jake Packer. “It’s a nice challenge to reach people who don’t normally listen to metal, and try and win them over.”
Packer is talking to NME while squashed in a small dressing room at Camden’s Electric Ballroom, alongside his bandmates, vocalist and guitarist Debbie Gough, guitarist Erhan Alman and drummer Julian Gage. Heriot are about to wrap up their second tour with Rolo Tomassi, during which they’ve spent two weeks planting flags in numerous European countries, most of which they had never played in before. They are, understandably, knackered, but who could blame them when they’re signing off on the longest stretch of shows they’ve ever done? Despite this, the band remain jovial, trading jokes about all the vitamins they’ve been taking to keep themselves healthy on the road.
Heriot’s demeanour in real life is belied by the fearsome sound of their music, which brings together doom, sludge and post-metal in a fiery yet atmospheric blend, where thundering passages are suddenly diffused by ambient tones. “There’s enough different blends of metal within Heriot that hopefully there might be at least one element of metal for you,” says Gough. “You might need a bit of work on the other bits,” she continues jokingly.
Lyrically, their words are shrouded in mystery, as keeping the meaning of each song guarded. Take blistering early single ‘Dispirit’, for example; what could it mean that “it’s too late for coward’s truth / Sever the head of this saint / Awaiting a rusted status”?
“We definitely know what the songs re about, but we never truly say,” Packer says. “It’s open to interpretation. Personally, with my lyrics, I use more archaic terms to distance the music from today’s events.”
The earliest incarnation of Heriot began in 2015, with Alman, Packer and Gage playing as three-piece after meeting at school in Swindon. It’s a town that isn’t exactly teeming with bands, though acts like Bring Me The Horizon and Enter Shikari passed through on early tours. Since then, however, Swindon has struggled to compete with the bigger, livelier metal and hardcore scene just an hour’s drive down the M4 in Bristol; in recent years, the area has suffered from the closure of many of its venues, such as the Oasis, which gave the Britpop band their name.
Gough, however, has heavy metal in her blood. She lives in Birmingham, a city renowned as the birthplace of the genre – it’s the hometown of Black Sabbath, and bands from Judas Priest and Napalm Death made their start in the surrounding areas. Gough was in another band when she met the Swindon members of Heriot through the touring circuit, often ending up at similar gigs and festivals. She was soon brought into the Heriot fold, fulfilling the band’s wish to bring in a second guitarist.
Heriot’s rise comes at a time where British rock and metal is flourishing more than it has done for quite some time. The bands Heriot name as their peers are varied in sound – they talk up bands like Holding Absence, Delaire The Liar and Static Dress, any of whom could be the next heirs to emo’s throne, but also heavier acts like Svalbard and Malevolence. These younger bands are thriving off the never-ending fervour of fans online, and it’s translating into monumental gains. The latter, for example, recently supported Trivium in venues as large as the 5,000-capacity Eventim Apollo in London, while Static Dress have spent the last month taking in European arenas with Bring Me The Horizon.
Gough thinks the rise in prominence of British heavy music is down to the pandemic. “It’s given people time to write music that they wouldn’t have normally had time to, and reflect on how much they love live music,” she says. “People tried to make different sounding music, because there was so much time for no one to hear it.”
Recently, any sense of competition amongst the scene has melted away, replaced by an excitement among bands for what their peers are doing. “I personally feel like there’s not really animosity between the bands,” Alman adds. “Everyone’s bigging each other up. They all make it so cool.”
As for Heriot themselves, how far do they want to take the band? “We’ll do it until people stop caring,” Gage says wryly, before Gough goes one better: “Until one of us dies!” Their hunger for success remains insatiable. They’ll say yes to whatever tour they’re offered, even if it means taking unpaid holiday from their jobs. No sacrifice is too big, they say. “I’d sacrifice even more if there was more to sacrifice,” notes Packer.
It’s simple, really. “This is all we’ve ever wanted to do,” says Alman. “And we want to do more.
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