ORANGE GOBLIN – “Heavy Metal Has Always Been Against The Idea Of Religion”

June 19, 2018, 6 years ago

Aaron Small

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ORANGE GOBLIN – “Heavy Metal Has Always Been Against The Idea Of Religion”

“I never thought we’d get this far, but here we are – and better than ever I think,” says Orange Goblin vocalist Ben Ward, speaking about his band’s ninth studio album, The Wolf Bites Back, available now via Candlelight / Spinefarm.

Going back to the beginning, Orange Goblin released their debut album, Frequencies From Planet Ten, in 1997 on Rise Above Records. That initial outing, along with 1998’s Time Travelling Blues, saw the band labeled as stoner rock, which is what was happening at the time. Thankfully, Orange Goblin has since evolved into its own band. “Yeah, that was always the intention,” confirms Ben. “We never wanted to get stereotyped and pigeonholed as just a stoner rock band; that tag grew stale really quickly over here (in The UK). We never saw ourselves as one of them bands anyway. We always had more in common with Motörhead; the more up-tempo side of stuff than the slow doom. Obviously, it’s the Sabbath influence which links everybody in that scene. We went with it for a long time, and eventually just wanted to branch out and explore different things, incorporate different influences, and try and make Orange Goblin stand out. I think that’s why, throughout the course of our career, there’s been a constant evolution with each album. We’ve always tried to do something a little bit different.”

Returning to present day, new album The Wolf Bites Back has Orange Goblin paying original tribute to the bands that inspire them, resulting in a varied yet cohesive collection of first class heaviness. The title track could be Cathedral, “Swords Of Fire” sounds like Black Sabbath, “Suicide Division” is reminiscent of Motörhead, and “The Stranger” has Johnny Cash written all over it. “I know where you’re coming from with ‘The Stranger’,” comments Ward. “It does have that Southern Rock – I don’t know whether Johnny Cash would be my first port of call; I had ZZ Top and Lynyrd Skynyrd more in mind; then it sort of goes off into a weird prog bit. The thing with this album was, when Joe (Hoare – guitarist), Chris (Turner – drummer), and Martyn (Millard – bass player) would come into the studio with ideas in the writing process, we weren’t ruling anything out. If it sounds good, it’s going in. Whereas in the past, we’d been like, ‘We can’t do that, it doesn’t sound like Orange Goblin.’ You know what? Fuck it! If we like it, let’s use it; let’s explore it. All the bands you mentioned there: Cathedral, Sabbath, Motörhead – they’re all obvious references and influences we’ve had throughout our career. I think we went a bit deeper than that. For me, there’s Discharge, Celtic Frost, Nick Cave, Captain Beyond, Captain Beefheart, Roxy Music – there’s all sorts of stuff going on. It made for a really interesting period when we were writing the record, and for a really interesting time when we were recording it as well.”

The cover art for The Wolf Bites Back certainly fits the moniker. “We wanted something simple and striking. With an album title like that, it’s got to be something quite obvious; a snarling wolf and the malicious intent in its eyes. We wanted to get that across. For me, the best album cover artwork is something that... you don’t necessarily need to see the band name on it to tell whose album it is. Dark Side Of The Moon – you don’t have to put Pink Floyd on the cover, you know who it is. We wanted something simple like that, and it’s going to look great on merch as well. It encapsulates everything about the album; it’s dark, it’s ferocious, and it’s beautiful. The wolf encapsulates all of that.”

Opening track “Sons Of Salem” is based upon the Salem Witch Trials in Massachusetts during the late 1600s, when 20 people were executed and five others died in prison. This is a topic that’s always possessed Ben. “Yeah, I always like to read about those sorts of things. Being a horror fan, there’s always lots of movies made – Witchfinder General, Mark Of The Devil – that I’ve always had an interest in. The Salem Witch Trials is one of those historical reference points that you go back to. But I didn’t want to do anything that was too literal, too obvious. I wanted to twist it and do a song from the perspective of the sons of the witches that were burned at the stake; have them coming back for vengeance upon the religious fools that executed their mothers.”

Rob Zombie has a song, book, and movie called The Lords Of Salem. “I’ve seen the film, and I can’t say I was a fan. I didn’t mind his first two – House Of 1,000 Corpses, and Devil’s Rejects – I thought they were pretty cool. I don’t know if it’s cause of the obvious references to classic horror movies we all grew up with like Texas Chainsaw Massacre; and the soundtracks to those films were really fucking good as well, that helped my enjoyment of them. Then we he did Lords Of Salem and the Halloween remake, I kind of lost interest. I haven’t really paid much attention to what he’s done since then. I’m more old school and classic, I prefer my Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci movies to anything that gets made these days.”

Orange Goblin give listeners a bit of a history lesson during “Ghosts Of The Primitives”, specifically with the line ‘Feeding Christians to the lions was a thrill.’ “That song and the title came from when I was reading The Island Of Doctor Moreau by H.G. Wells. The theme of that book is obviously the mad scientist on the island, experimenting with vivisection; trying to mix certain animals with others. It’s so weird when you think about it. ‘Ghosts Of The Primitives’ was like, what would the Neanderthals and Cave Men think of what we’ve become now with science? For them, it was just basic survival skills. You had to create fire, hunt and kill, cook your food, that sort of thing. Now, we’re so spoilt that we’re fucking around with these things that shouldn’t be tampered with. That line is just taking references from things that were fucked up throughout history; when you think about feeding human beings to lions for sport… that’s pretty weird.” Ancient Rome was a strange place. “Yeah, I mean, I kind of like the idea of being around in Caligula’s time with the orgies, the drinking, the blood-sports; sounds pretty cool.”

The Italian theme continues in track six, titled “In Bocca Al Lupo”, which is Italian for good luck. Explaining how the instrumental ended up with that moniker, Ben recalls, “We left that to our guitarist Joe (Hoare). He likes to do something instrumental on the album each time. I always find it a nice interlude, it breaks the record up. And it’s something Sabbath always used to do, with songs like “Fluff” and “FX”. We’ve always kind of done it from the very first album, we had the stupidly titled ‘Song Of The Purple Mushroom Fish’. This one, Joe came up with and we really dug the sound of it cause it was a bit different. To me, it really sounds like Wishbone Ash; it’s got a real ‘70s vibe to it. We said to him, what’s it called? He was like, ‘I don’t know, I haven’t thought about that. All I’ve done is write the music.’ So, we said ‘This one’s on you dude. You can go away and come up with a title for it.’ He went home; he’s married to a woman who’s half Italian and the next day he said, ‘I’ve got an idea. Let’s call it In Bocca Al Lupo.’ Ok, what’s that mean? He explained the good luck thing to us, and we thought it sort of fit because with the album title The Wolf Bites Back, the literal translation of In Bocca Al Lupo is, In The Mouth Of The Wolf. So, it’s got kind of a double meaning.”

Yet another language is incorporated within The Wolf Bites Back, that being German on “Zeitgeist”. “Yes, the translation of that is A Spirit Of An Age. The idea behind that song was, I don’t know if you’ve ever seen it, but there’s this really amazing documentary called Zeitgeist, which picks apart and absolutely ridicules the whole notion of religion. It shows you how the whole basis of Christianity had been done so many times before, whether it was with the ancient Egyptians, following the North Star. It’s so obvious, but people don’t look into it deep enough to realize what a sham it is. This is coming from me, a lifelong atheist, who’s never had any sort of affinity with religion of any kind. I don’t actually knock people for their beliefs if it makes them feel better about their lives and gives them something to cling onto, then so be it. I just don’t get it. The Zeitgeist thing really struck a chord with me. If you get the opportunity to check it out – I’m sure it’s on YouTube – it’s really worth watching. It’s not that old, I think George Carlin’s got some quotes on there as well. There’s some comedians who have a pop at the whole basis of religion as well. Obviously, heavy metal music has always been kind of against the whole idea of religion, and it’s been the thorn in religion’s side since it was created. It was a really great inspiration for that song.”

There’s a wonderful line found within “Zeitgeist”, that being ‘Peace and illusion, master confusion, we have no idea what comes next.’ “That was the whole religion thing where you’re taught by the church if you do what they say and treat everybody well, you’ll go to heaven. But where’s the guarantee of that? We have no idea where we’re going! As far as I’m concerned, we’ll be worm food. That’s why it has that line in there as well, ‘We’re condemned to feed the worms.’ It makes more sense now when I talk about it and think back on it, than it did when I was writing it.”

Ben was previously quoted as saying, “This is the most honest album I’ve written.” A statement he elaborates upon, “In the past I may have been too reliant on the fantasy aspect of things; the whole Tolkien thing. But this one, with ‘Zeitgeist’, ‘Burn The Ships’ and ‘Ghosts Of The Primitives’, there’s some sort of leaning toward a political view, trying to hint towards the fact that we all know this planet is fucked! The politicians are thieving, lying bastards and warmongers. When you turn on the TV, it only takes five minutes for you to realize that there’s nothing positive going on in the world. I’ve never tapped into that before on any of the records cause I thought, I’m not really well informed enough to… but at some point you have to think, enough is enough. Sabbath were masters at that; Geezer Butler wrote some amazing lyrics that have real underlying political themes. ‘War Pigs’ was really obvious, but Geezer’s always been one of my favorite lyricists. It was nice to try and explore that sort of thing.”

It’s been four years since the previous Orange Goblin album, Back From The Abyss. Ben assesses the time between releases in the following manner. “It was just a case of us… after the touring schedule of Back From The Abyss – we did a full European tour supporting Saint Vitus, we came over to The States and we did a tour with Down. We came home, we did some headline tours, a lot of festivals. We were never lazy or anything, we just didn’t consider writing another album and rushing into it. The record label we were with, Candlelight, got swallowed up by the whole Spinefarm thing. They bought it and there was obviously a lot of renegotiating contracts and that sort of thing. We didn’t want to jump into writing an album until we were confident we were in the right place. When we realized we were, about middle of last year, the label said, ‘Are we going to get a new record?’ We said, ‘Yeah, guess it’s about time.’ By that stage – Chris, Martyn, Joe, and myself had all started to get that creative itch, and that desire to make music again.”

“When you get into that stage, it makes you realize that’s why we started the band in the first place. That’s the whole fun of it – getting the four of us into a room, floating ideas around, and coming up with some songs that we want to hear; it was really good fun! After 23 years, I find that really encouraging that we still have that same desire and enthusiasm to create. The fact that it’s going to be four years since the last album came out, it doesn’t really bother us. There was five years between Healing Through Fire (2007) and A Eulogy For The Damned (2012). We’ve always been one of these bands that have said, you can’t put a scale on these things, it’s going to be your legacy once you’re gone. So, don’t rush it and put it out there just for the sake of it. Wait until it feels right, take your time and do the best you can. It’s a sad indication of the industry at the moment – these bands feel compelled that they have to write one album every two years because the management or the agent or the record label tell them, ‘You have to be on cycle and go out and tour and promote.’ I think that’s not letting your natural creativity blossom. You can’t force these things; otherwise you end up not giving it your best. I mean, there’s some bands who thrive on that; Clutch is a perfect example. They keep churning out these albums every two years, but somehow they’re making them better and better.”

On the live front, Orange Goblin have several European festival dates lined up, as well as a co-headlining tour of The UK with Corrosion Of Conformity.  However, crossing the Atlantic to play North America presents an entirely different set of obstacles to overcome. “We’d love to! But at this stage, it’s hard because everybody’s got day jobs to work. And as you know full well, the whole visa process is very expensive. You have to factor in the flights, and paying for crew and backline, all that sort of thing. You can’t do it without having a decent chunk of change to play with. Last year, we got to go to the west coast to do the one-off show at Ozzfest in California; that was fantastic! We have had approaches from promoters and agents over there about putting something together across The US – but by no means will we be doing the six-week tours we were fortunate to do a few years ago. If we do it, it’s going to be a week at the most. We feel guilty about it. We’re not happy about the fact. We know we’ve got a really strong following all across North America; in Canada and The US. We want to play as many shows as we possibly can, but it’s not feasible. For us to have that amount of time off work, it leaves our wives and children at home alone with nobody to pay the bills. You’ve got to get your priorities in order when you get to our age. So unfortunately, unless someone’s going to offer us some stupid amount of money to go out there and tour, it’s not going to be forthcoming very soon.”

Given the aforementioned roadblocks, how about the possibility of filming one of the UK gigs for a live DVD / Blu-Ray, so North American fans can enjoy the band on stage that way? “Yeah, in this day and age there’s no reason why you can’t do the live streams of shows, if you’ve got plenty of time to organize it properly and advertise it. That’s something I’d like to do. But, there’s possibilities because there’s festivals popping up across North America now that were never there ten years ago. Things like Psycho Las Vegas – that’s a good opportunity to get bands to come over from Europe. They pay well, so that covers your flights and everything. Then if you can branch off and do a few other shows while you’re there, so be it. That’s the sort of thing we’re going to have to look at. We’re not ruling it out.”

Circling back to the beginning, The Wolf Bites Back is a fantastic album. It goes in many different directions, yet always coming back to the same center place, which is Orange Goblin, making for a really enjoyable listen. “That’s really good to hear, cause when we wrote this record – and one of the reasons why it’s probably a bit darker is, we kind of felt we had a point to prove. There’s a lot of young bands coming out now; some of them really good with something to say, some of them just really tiring, boring, and going through the motions. There’s a lot of these doom / sludge metal bands that – basically all they’ve done is take anything that Eyehategod and Buzzoven ever did and rip it off, doing it nowhere near as good. What’s the point of that? We wanted to do something that is different and creative, that makes people say, ‘Ah, I can see why Orange Goblin are held in esteem.’ And I feel we’ve done that. We spent a lot of our career being very self-deprecating and taking the piss out of ourselves. But when you get this far into your career, and achieved the sort of things we have, we’ve realized we’re here for a reason; we’re a fucking good band! We wanted to make that statement come across with this record.”

(Photos by: Darren Toms)

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