February 16, 2014

The Journey of Wildernessking

By Keenan Nathan Oakes. When Max asked me to chronicle the journey from Heathens to Wildernessking and more specifically from the Mock the Heavens EP to our recent work, I was a little stumped. Nothing has really changed
By Keenan Nathan Oakes.

When Max asked me to chronicle the journey from Heathens to Wildernessking and more specifically from the Mock the Heavens EP to our recent work, I was a little stumped. Nothing has really changed since the inception of our group in 2009/2010. We’re still writing music with the purpose of pleasing ourselves and having fun, yet we’ve encountered so many great things on our path that have certainly moulded our thinking and ambitions.

Dylan [Viljoen - Guitars] and I were playing for a band (a rather ambitious, progressive metal band with big goals) in 2008-2010 that never really saw the light of day. During this time Jesse [Navarre Vos - Guitars] and I became close friends and talked about forming a black metal band as we became more interested in and slightly obsessed with the genre.

In the interim Dylan and I started Heathens as a fun project that touched on the more rock ‘n roll side of black metal, ala Darkthrone and Aura Noir, while we waited for our main band to take off. With no real goals other than to have fun and write some tunes, we put out our first EP in May of 2010. This was the first band that I was in where I was involved in the writing process, and not coming on board only for vocal and lyrical duties, and it felt and still feels pretty special. We were really happy with what we created in Heathens and that was more than enough at the time.

Jesse joined in September of 2010 as our sound started expanding, and everything came full circle. I was now in a “black metal” band with Jesse, and Dylan and I realized our goals (eventually) that we had previously set for our other band.

Artwork by Tim Leibbrandt.

Dylan wrote "‘Til the Aeons Come" in the winter of 2009. I remember staying over at his house one evening and he played me the song. I’m a sucker for pretty much anything our guitarists write, and I immediately took to the music and wrote lyrics for it when I woke up the following morning. It was a fun process and we decided to write some more songs, if only a couple of months later. We finished the 5 original tracks that make up the EP around January/February of 2010.

The other band that Dylan and I were playing in at the time actually approached Jason [Jardim - Drums] about joining, but he was committed to Infernal Sephiroth (they might've changed their name by then), a fantastic bm project that no longer exists, sadly. Knowing about Jason’s affinity for the genre, I approached him again, this time with the music we had written for the Mock the Heavens EP. I remember dropping the songs off at his place (a fairly awkward encounter) and a couple of days later Dylan and I were jamming with Jason in his basement (now lovingly referred to as The Dungeon). I distinctly remember Jason asking us what was going to happen to the project even before we started jamming, and we said that we’ll see how it goes but we would like him to be the drummer. All this before knowing whether or not there was musical chemistry.

The first jam went pretty well, and a week later we played our first gig.

Artwork by Tim Leibbrandt.

We’re always writing… It was never our intention to be super productive. We really enjoy the creative process, and I think that’s our favourite part of being in this band, making music with your best friends.

One thing that’s remained constant throughout these last few years is the need to push ourselves, try something differently, whether it’s our approach to the music or the music itself, where we’re going to record and how we’re going to do it, who we’re going to work with, and how we can control almost every aspect of our band. That’s the blessing of doing this whole D-I-Y thing.

The Reign of the Heathen was strung together fairly soon after we did the first EP. We tried some new things (having our friend Ryan come lay down vocals on the title track, having a solid blast beat section in "Forever Black", more progressive structures etc.) while paying homage to the greats by keeping to the metal clichés. I’m particularly fond of the intro that Dylan wrote ("Newborn") and we’ve spoken about doing an ambient/acoustic/soundscape Wildernessking album at some point.

We never wanted to play in the confines of genre and we love it when bands evolve/mature/change, so it wasn't so much a conscious decision as it was a natural progression to try something new for the next release.

Artwork by Tim Leibbrandt.

Dylan and I met up on the evening of 24 June 2010 at his place (aka The Shed, where most of the music for the first Wildernessking album was written). Over the course of a couple of hours in the evening and the next morning, we wrote one of our favourite songs. "Morning" is really fun to play and holds a special place in our hearts, much like "The Return" from the first EP.

The idea for a name change came in May of 2011. With the coverage and support we got from Angry Metal Guy and Lurker’s Path for the Heathens material, we decided to step things up a little, thus legitimizing our band. There is a hardcore band called Heathens and we didn’t want to share a name once we knew that we would take this project further. Another reason for the change was that the music called for it… We wanted a name that more accurately encapsulated our essence...

Artwork for the CD version by Reuben Sawyer / Rainbath Visual

Our first record feels like a best of compilation when looking back to that period in our lives. Jesse had been in the band for about a year before we started recording the album in September of 2011, but we hadn’t really found ourselves musically. We took the best songs we could write at the time (the creative process was very sporadic) and recorded them. The whole thing was tied together lyrically, yet somehow the album seems pretty cohesive on a musical level and flows well.

Artwork by Stephen Green

We had written the title track (in a similar fashion to Morning) while we were still recording The Writing of Gods in the Sand. I remember going for a walk with Dylan and Jason at the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens and Dylan mentioned that we should turn …And the Night Swept Us Away into a little EP (initially we were going to do another single release). Even though it has only 3 tracks, we’re really proud of this EP because we feel that it touches on a few styles (styles that we’ve really elaborated on for our 2nd full-length).

The fact that our band has connected with people from all over the world is truly amazing and wonderful. We are so thankful to everyone that supports Wildernessking. It’s mind blowing and humbling to read all these incredible reviews of our music, and it has only fueled the fire.

Look out for a lot of music this year!

Thanks for reading,

-- Keenan

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