Heriot: “The UK scene is so rich with amazing bands – we’re beyond grateful to be part of it”

Heriot are probably the best new metal band in Britain. They smashed Download, they’ve got a guitar hero in their ranks, and Enter Shikari’s management have picked them up. Meet the band who are going to annihilate your 2023…

Heriot: “The UK scene is so rich with amazing bands – we’re beyond grateful to be part of it”
Nick Ruskell
Paul Harries

Back in February, Heriot were out on tour with Rolo Tomassi when Debbie Gough phoned her parents in tears. It was the band’s biggest support tour to date, and something had happened in the middle of it. Debbie had important news that couldn’t hold on. Urgently, she called home to tell them what had gone on.

“I could hardly speak,” she remembers. “They were going, ‘Are you all alright? What’s happened? Where are you?’ They thought the van had crashed or something awful.”

Nope – Heriot had just been told they were playing at Download. Come on, it’s not that bad…

“Any success, I just start crying,” she laughs. “I can’t help it!”

And where was Debbie for this tell-the-grandchildren moment, in which Heriot notched up yet another success on their increasingly worn scorecard?

“There’s a Harvester near my parents’ house,” she explains. “I love Harvester. For my friends who aren’t into the same music as me at all, that’s our hub. We got the call, and it felt enormous because we were already on tour, and then to get something like that was just unbelievable.

“We were all elated,” she smiles, “and I just remember being in tears by the drinks machine!”

In June, when Heriot – Debbie, bassist/singer Jake Packer, guitarist Erhan Alman and drummer Julian Gage – arrived onsite at Donington Park and started setting up, one of Deb’s mates texted her to say she looked like she was about to burst into tears again. Actually, this time she was laughing.

“Quite often we end up laughing at everything when things are too silly,” she grins. “Onstage, it was a mixture of laughing at what was happening, and also just being really emotional. During the soundcheck, I remember looking through the tent at the main stage, and seeing the big Download banner and thinking, ‘This is it, man.’ I texted my dad a photo of that view. I wish I could just permanently live in that day. It was sick. It was so sick.”

“It was just fucking nuts,” agrees Julian. “We were the first band on, at the first proper Download in a few years because of COVID, so that slot was nuts. But you can never anticipate how busy it’s going to be walking up to that tent. It was just ridiculous, being as busy as it was.”

“That whole day, I was trying to absorb it as much as I could, because I realised that it was one of the biggest days ever,” says Debbie. “I really wanted to remember it, because you have one time playing it for the first time. It’s such a big thing that everybody dreams of, and I was really aware of how lucky I was that day. And it felt fucking nutty. I’ll be honest, I felt like I was asleep the whole day, just dreaming.”

Get used to it, kid. Heriot might just be the next great British metal band.

Debbie and Julian are telling us this in a friend’s flat in Manchester, where they’re crashing after a stop on their tour opening for Swiss-American black metal iconoclasts Zeal & Ardor. Two nights ago, in Brighton, they were excellent. Last night, Deb got wet eyes again at seeing that Heriot’s merch was in the lobby of Manchester Academy (“It made me feel like we’re a proper band,” she hoots). Julian reports that it was probably the best show of the tour so far, having finally got a pit going from a crowd that a) isn’t theirs, b) probably hadn’t seen Heriot before, and c) might not have been expecting their ultra-heavy grindings.

“Last night felt like we cracked it,” is his assessment. “I think we probably broke Zeal & Ardor’s crowd.”

“The way we normally gauge whether it’s going well is if people are moving. But I don’t think this is a very move-y crowd,” adds Debbie. “I think that people quite like to stand and watch it and kind of absorb it. But last night something happened and we broke through. It seems like we’re going down well and we sold loads of merch, so it’s just a different indication of how we’re doing.”

Heriot are currently doing very well. In April, their Profound Morality EP put in an early bid as one of the best British metal releases of the year, a collection of songs that mixed the harsh, grinding noise of Napalm Death with the smarts of Code Orange and something of Loathe’s moments of post-metal cool. By the end of summer they’d gotten very good at doing festivals, making particularly light work of Bloodstock, at which, despite a genuinely dangerous temperature in the tent thanks to the August heatwave, they turned their stage into one giant circle-pit. At ArcTanGent, feedback from some was of the Band Of The Weekend variety. In October, they made their European debut at The Netherlands’ Soulcrusher Festival. Going on at midnight, they didn’t expect much. They got a near riot.

“That was another one where I was laughing while I was playing because it was just silly,” says Debbie. “We played at 12am, and I guess that’s standard in Europe, but to me that’s bedtime. I should’ve been dreaming, I should’ve been snoring, but I was so surprised how many people were awake and ready to pit at that time of night, in a country we’d never been to. It sent me into a laughing frenzy.”

When asked, Deb and Julian couldn’t put a number on how many road miles they’ve clocked up this year. “A few miles, more than 10,” is Julian’s guess. The closest measure Heriot’s 25-year-old guitarist could give, meanwhile, is that, “Touring has aged me terribly this year – I look about 60.”

Get out…

“No, look at these bags under my eyes,” she insists, pointing. “That’s the only fucking bad thing about touring: you age quicker!”

Heriot have spent enough time on the motorway over the past 12 months to feel tired, at least. “Van-fever,” they say, is kicking in, and the quartet have found themselves becoming increasingly eccentric as the hours crawl by.

“I think I’ve lost a huge section of my brain,” laughs Debbie. “When we did that Soulcrusher show, I think I was in the van for, like, 26 hours over two days. My brain was mushy.”

One effect of the Heriot van-fever phenomenon, Julian says, is that they’ve found themselves “talking without words”, and that they’re able to understand one another’s various grunts of approval, disapproval, comfort or degrees of hunger without using actual, dictionary-approved language.

“You can go ages without actually saying real words,” he describes. “It just gets ridiculous, this silly bubble you end up in after driving for whole days at a time.”

“I really quite enjoy it, though,” adds Debbie. “I like the silliness of it. But then when you’re talking to somebody who hasn’t been in the van, that’s when you realise how mad you’ve gone. You’ll get to the venue and you’re introduced to someone who hasn’t been in the van with you for four days, and it’s like you’ve forgotten how to be normal!”

Things aren’t going to get any less silly anytime soon. A little while ago, Heriot were taken on by Enter Shikari’s management. As a guitar nerd who (when she’s not on tour) makes her living working in a guitar shop, Debbie has already been called a guitar hero, receiving the thumbs-up from no less a hand than Lamb Of God axeman Mark Morton and Knocked Loose, as well as becoming an ambassador for Jackson and Marshall. Things could be worse.

And though the day after we catch up with them they have to take early retirement from the Zeal & Ardor tour due to illness, next in the diary is a run with Boston Manor. As with the Z&A shows, Julian anticipates “a lot of confused faces”, but the pair are also jazzed at the prospect of opening the eyes and ears of folks who wouldn’t normally end up in front of such a band.

“We feel equally as excited as we do worried, because we’re quite a heavy band, and we’re never sure how we’re going to go down,” shrugs Deb. “But we kind of enjoy that challenge.”

Herein lies part of Heriot’s charm. Though comfortably at the most extreme and uncompromising end of metal, it’s very easy to get on board with what they’re doing. In similar fashion to the current wave of heavy British bands like Employed To Serve, Conjurer and Svalbard, all finding ears beyond the usual metal scene, you don’t have to be a metal maniac to get caught in what Heriot are doing (though it definitely helps).

“Being included in this new wave of British metal is cool,” says Julian. “I think there’s so much going on since the pandemic, and so many bands have come out and are killing it. We always tend to be included in these lists of new bands, and to be amongst all that is weird, but it’s so cool as well.”

“It’s really strange, but it’s fucking wicked,” adds Debbie. “What more could we ask for? It’s the ultimate compliment, especially because we do sound the way that we do. I’m so happy that we’ve not been stuck to that noise circuit, or just the hardcore circuit. I love that we can have these opportunities to branch out. I’m beyond grateful and excited to be part of the UK scene at the minute, because it’s so rich with amazing bands.”

One example – and one of the few plans they can talk about for 2023 at the moment – is Heriot’s billing at Slam Dunk. By some distance the heaviest band ever to have appeared at the fest (dry your eyes, Knocked Loose), despite the rest of the bill featuring The Offspring, Bowling For Soup, Enter Shikari and Kids In Glass Houses, they also feel like a natural choice.

“It’s different, but it feels like the only UK festival we probably could have done – we did the metal ones already!” says Julian. “So to get it is wicked. Yeah, it’s mostly a pop-punk festival, but again, we like playing to audiences like that, and they seem to like us as well.”

“So many things that have happened to us were textbook things we shouldn’t have played, and I feel like Slam Dunk was probably one of them,” says Debbie. “Again that’ll be one where I’m fucking manically laughing when we’re playing, just because it shouldn’t be happening. It’s another one where I can remember going there as a kid to see Every Time I Die and Cancer Bats, so it feels special.”

And as Heriot prepare to get into the van and for the fever to set in again, heading off to another town to effortlessly sell extremity to people who never knew they liked it, none of this is lost on the pair.

“We are so lucky,” Deb says. “We’re aware that we don’t play music that is conventionally listened to at all. So we’re really, really excited to be given the opportunities that we have. Sometimes because we’re in the middle of it, it looks different to what it’s like from the outside. It all goes so quickly that I don’t think we’ve really had time to soak it all in this year.”

Good luck finding time for any of that in the next 12 months. Heriot are going to do something very special. Make sure Debbie’s got plenty of tissues for all the good news…

Heriot play Slam Dunk in May. This article originally appeared in the December 2022 issue of the magazine.

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