Introducing Heriot – the genre-agnostic saviours of British metal
With Lamb of God and Trivium already singing their praises, Heriot might be the next great British metal band – we caught up with guitarists Debbie Gough and Erhan Alman to find out what sets them apart from the crowd.
Image: Harry Steel
You can tell when a metal band really means it. Fundamentally, it’s about intent. Some musicians treat heaviness as nothing more than a flex, and they’re rarely the ones whose music pierces the skin. Others set out to cave your chest in not only because they can, but because they want to know what’s going on inside. Heriot offer this sort of proposition – the weight of their sound has purpose, and rage, and catharsis behind it. They really mean it.
Few heavy operations in the UK have made as many waves as the quartet over the past year or so. Their 2022 EP Profound Morality introduced a cacophonous blend of hardcore, grinding industrial, and blackened death extremism, with guitarist and vocalist Debbie Gough’s skin-peeling scream matched by the guttural roar of bassist Jake Packer and guitarist Erhan Alman’s out-there atmospheric work. With drummer Julian Gage playing as though his kit had done him a terrible wrong, its eight songs offered a potent introduction to their particular strain of brutality.
Speaking with Gough and Alman, it’s apparent that they don’t see Heriot as a blunt instrument. They take great care to crack your skull in precisely the way they intended, and that thread of meticulousness runs from the germ of an idea through to a cable sliding into a socket. “I use two noise gates,” Gough says when asked about the setup that has been rearranging synapses over the past 12 months. “I put a HM-2 in the loop with an NS-2 and then put it into an MXR Smart Gate, run it on the high channel of a JCM800, and crank the preamp.” There’s the tiniest of pauses before the all-important kicker: “So that it really tears your head off.”
Heriot began this year by releasing Demure, a single that they described as the start of a “new era” for the band. Even at this early stage, they’ve developed a rep for being able to move on, which is exciting given that a lot of fans would have been stoked to get served something approximating ‘2 Profound 2 Morality’. The track scrubs away some of the needling scratchiness of its predecessor, leaning instead into more concrete riffs driven on by some thunderous rhythm playing from Gough.
“With Profound Morality, it was like dipping our toes in the water of what we wanted to sound like,” she says. “It was like a debut EP – we hadn’t really put a lot of music out that we felt was the best representation of Heriot. We never want to make the same record over and over again.”
Black country communing
Beginning life as a three-piece in Swindon before the arrival of Gough, a Birmingham native, upended their doom-driven sound, it might be said that we’re already on to Heriot Mk III. The band are true metalheads working with plenty of accumulated knowledge when it comes to the outer reaches of recorded savagery, and they approach writing with that at the forefront of their process. They are able to evolve quickly because of the book learning they put in as kids who clung to aggressive music as a break from stultifying reality. “Anytime anyone’s got an idea we allow it to become something,” Alman says.
“We don’t go into it thinking, ‘It has to be this, this and this.’ We’d rather hone in on the different areas of what we think our sound is so that we don’t keep writing the same music,” Gough continues. “Like E says, we don’t reject ideas, we work on how we can make them more cohesive with what the band’s sound is. I think that’s how it’s ended up with such a melting pot of different sub-genres within the music that we’ve put out so far. It’s just because we didn’t see any idea as foreign to what our sound could be.”
Between them, Gough and Alman are able to cover plenty of bases. If you’re getting batted around the head by a chugging riff, you’re probably catching fists from both of them. If you’re in a moment of relative respite, such as the calm-before-the-storm verse of Profound Morality standout Coalescence, then you’ve likely stumbled into Alman’s territory. Ducking divebombs during a febrile solo? That’ll be Gough.
“With heavy music, sometimes it can be all or nothing,” she says. “The atmospheric bits are a bigger influence in Demure, with the cleans and the big reverb space and the chorus coming into play. It just breaks up the sound a little bit so that the dynamics hit a bit harder, like they do with the vocals.”
As Gough observes, the knock on effect is that Heriot are always teeing up something truly crushing. At the midpoint of Profound Morality, the interlude Mutagen takes hold for close to three minutes. When it fades, Enter The Flesh kicks into full chaos mode. It’s perhaps the most pulse-wrecking, feral moment on the whole record, but the carnage is all the bloodier because it comes out of nowhere.
“The space has been created for that,” Alman observes. “Enter The Flesh is just one of those songs—we really want to get back into it, and we want to give it everything. We’re just fans of heavy stuff like that. It’s nice to have that contrast in a lot of the stuff that we do. Do we try to make it unlistenable? I don’t know, maybe in hindsight. I think we just love everything all at once.”
“When we first started playing together, we really just made songs that sounded like Nails,” Gough adds. “We really loved playing those kinds of songs. And then there was a point where we’d done so many experimental things that we needed to have a heavy tune in there. Even with with the solo I was a bit like, ‘Whatever, I’m just going to wang the trem and do loads of divebombs.’ That wouldn’t normally be how I’d write a solo but the vibe was there for me not to be shreddy, for the guitar to be menacing instead. I think it was just like, ‘Okay, we love Nails, we love Power Trip, let’s have like a ripper in there and not overthink how it would be.’ That’s a song that goes back to our roots.”
Responding to Demure offering the chance to retrofit their sound with something more weighty, Gough also changed up her gear a little by switching out her Jackson SL4X for one of the brand’s new American Series Soloist guitars. “That’s why it sounds a lot chunkier – my SL4X has got single coil-sized humbuckers,” she says. “I’ve got a DiMarzio Chopper in the bridge, and that’s got a really trebly output. The humbucker in the SL3 is a lot fatter. I’m just holding down the rhythm section in that song – I don’t need to do anything cutting through the mix, really.”
For Alman, the job called for an ESP 400B baritone. Live, he counters Gough’s all-11 JCM800 with an Orange CR120 that can be seen over his shoulder while we talk. “Again, I use HM-2s, and I have a Behringer chorus, which I bought ages ago,” he says. “It’s a 30 quid pedal but it does the job. I’ve got a Hall of Fame reverb for some of the clean bits and a noise suppressor, because the HM-2s can be a bit unruly. They’ll squeal halfway through a set.”
Beginning in May, Heriot will undertake their first headline UK tour. Having opened for a series of heavy bands – among them post-hardcore greats Svalbard, mathcore legends Rolo Tomassi, atmospheric black metallers Zeal & Ardor, even the pop-punk band Boston Manor – who don’t push things as far as they do, the run will offer a chance for the band to see just how wide their gospel has spread. “We’ve been quite lucky in a sense – we’ve played with a lot of bands that aren’t strictly metal,” Alman says.
Rather than fighting through a frosty exterior a short while after doors open, they will be out to cause unbridled mayhem from minute one. It’s a different sort of challenge but, naturally, a very exciting one, with dates already selling out. “Obviously we’ve got that comfort that the songs will be familiar to people,” Gough says. “When you’re playing to a lot of different crowds it’s hard to find the key point in each set that will make XYZ crowd tick against a different audience.
“It’s quite exciting to be able to explore what we can bring to a live show, further to the actual music. With the support slots, obviously you have to play and change over quite quickly, and you can’t really bring production. That’s a cool thing that we’re excited about doing. It’ll be cool to see what our crowd is going to be because we’ve played to so many different types of crowds over the last few years. It’s going to be interesting to see what kind of audience stuck. What is the Heriot audience? I don’t know.”
Whoever they are, they’ll need to be ready. Heriot aren’t slowing down for anyone.
Heriot’s Demure is out now through Church Road Records.
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