"When I was a kid, my obsession was rifling through the forest for mushrooms. Then I gravitated toward witchcraft." We spent a day amongst neolithic tombs and monoliths with occult metal sensations, Green Lung

Green Lung
(Image credit: Future (Photo: Tina Korhonen))

It’s a crisp, sunny Sunday morning in Albion. Around us, fields stretch as far as the eye can see, while the clear blue sky above us is offset by a bracing wind. The bucolic corner of Wiltshire in which we’re standing is the embodiment of 18th-century artist and mystic William Blake’s vision of England as some kind of “green and pleasant land”. Birds wheel in the air hundreds of feet up, and it’s easy to imagine the sound of the feet that have walked these paths over the millennia.

Yet something more arcane and unsettling is woven into the natural beauty. Looming over us is a strange, striking arrangement of stones, each more than twice the height of a person: two vertical, one balanced precariously on top of it. This is The Devil’s Den, and the stones are said to be a dolmen, a neolithic burial chamber that supposedly dates back more than 5,000 years. If its age and physical presence are impressive, they’ve got nothing on the reputed supernatural properties that give The Devil’s Den its name. “You know,” says Tom Templar, frontman of Green Lung and British folklore enthusiast, “they say that if you put a glass of water on one of the stones and leave it overnight, the Devil will drink it.” Suddenly, the wind feels a little bit chillier.

If ever a band could moonlight as guides to Weird Britain, it’s Green Lung. The Londoners fuse melodic doom metal with a deep-rooted interest in the ancient and the arcane. Not for nothing is their new album, the majestic This Heathen Land (voted number eight in Hammer’s 50 Best Albums of 2023), subtitled ‘A Journey Into Occult Albion’. The Devil’s Den itself even appears on the album’s inside cover. “It’s the connoisseur’s choice of neolithic stone structures,” says Tom admiringly.

We’re not just lurking near a gigantic pile of rocks in the middle of Wiltshire today for the hell of it. No, we’ve enlisted the band – Tom plus guitarist Scott Black, bassist Joseph Ghast, drummer Matt Wiseman and organist John Wright – to give us a tour of some of the standing stones, barrows and henges that inspired the nine songs that make up This Heathen Land. “I think it’s growing up in rural Norfolk,” Tom says of his fascination with British folklore and the ancient monuments associated with it. “I grew up in one of the most remote parts of the UK. When I was a kid, my obsession was rifling through the forest for mushrooms. Then getting into my teens, I gravitated toward witchcraft and folklore. I’d always been interested in the supernatural and ghosts and had a bit of a gothic side, and then you realise there is this music that is a home for a lot of that stuff.”

This interest in the subject soon found a soundtrack, with Tom graduating from Black Sabbath and Alice Cooper to black metal, doom and beyond. Green Lung were formed in 2017 with the intention of marrying Tom’s two interests into one occult-metal whole. “One of the things I hope makes Green Lung stand out is that we’re more inspired by books,” he says. “We’re exploring a literary world.” We’re not just talking old Dennis Wheatley-style horror novels here. One of the main inspirations for This Heathen Land is Folklore Myths And Legends Of Britain, a Reader’s Digest book published in 1977 (it currently fetches eye-watering sums on eBay).

“Old reference books, old guides to folklore, old guides to weird England, haunted buildings, real stories,” says Tom, listing the other influences on the album. “It’s more exciting to me than doing another song about The Lord Of The Rings or something. I’m finding something creepy, maybe one line, and making a whole song from it. It’s the opposite of, say, Mastodon doing an album based on Moby Dick.”

By his own admission, Tom is the driving force behind the band’s focus on all things esoteric. He jokes that the rest of Green Lung have been dragged into his love of standing stones and witchcraft via the sheer power of his obsession. “We’re all really invested in learning about culture,” says Scott Black as we stomp away from The Devil’s Den. “There’s some beautiful, incredible experiences we’ve had as a band getting into this, exploring nature and all of that stuff. I love it.”

We jump in the car to make the short trip from The Devil’s Den to West Kennett Long Barrow, a neolithic tomb near the village of Avebury. Tom is excited about this site. “I’ve never actually been here before!” he says enthusiastically as he marches off ahead of us. For anyone who hasn’t spent their weekend wandering up and down the country looking at massive stones, it’s worth unpacking some of the terminology here. A long barrow is a kind of covered construct that was used as a tomb. A henge is a circular earthen enclosure with a bank on the outside and a ditch on the inside, some featuring inner rings of stone or wooden structures. Then there are monoliths and megaliths (the former are stones that stand alone, while the latter are large stones and especially those that form part of a bigger complex). ‘Neolithic’ means something dates from the Stone Age, which was 5,500-4,000 years ago, which isn’t to be confused with the Bronze Age, which was a trifling 4,000-2,800 years ago. Got it? There’ll be a test later.

Sadly, the enthusiasm at seeing the West Kennett Long Barrow quickly turns to disappointment. The landscape and history of this country may be impressive and awe-inspiring, but the weather can be a bastard. A heavy downpour last night has turned the path up to the barrow into a reservoir. Only Hammer photographer Tina had the forethought to bring wellies. The rest of us are shod in inappropriate footwear. To cap it off, it’s just started raining. To Tom’s clear annoyance, we aren’t getting up that hill. Nor will we make another planned stop-off, the 30-metre human-made chalk mound Silbury Hill, which is similarly soggy. “We said we wanted to go cocktail tasting in Malibu,” says bassist Joe. “Don’t blame us!”

As we prepare to trudge back down to the car, Tom spots a piece of propaganda from a nationalist countryside organisation on one of the signs leading us back to the road. “That’s going,” he says as he rips the sticker from the sign. “Fucking fascist propaganda.” It turns out this kind of thing is fairly common. “It is, and it’s bullshit,” Tom says, shaking his head. “We’re a British band and we want to celebrate that. People like it because it’s fresh, it’s not more Odin and Thor. But these people...I come at it from the complete opposite angle to them, when we had common land,
traditions that weren’t shaped by the monarchy or Christianity, folk stuff from working-class people down the centuries. So much of that stuff is deeply anti-nationalist.”

Green Lung’s feelings are made clear by a patch they sell on their website and at gigs. It reads ‘Nazi Occultists Fuck Off’ – a play on the Dead Kennedys song Nazi Punks Fuck Off, famously covered by Napalm Death. “The reason we did it is to say that you can do this without it being quasi-fascist,” says Tom. “Because it has been hijacked. It’s a genuine risk.”

Nationalist crap disposed of, we head towards Avebury itself. This small, picturesque village is home to the biggest stone henge in the UK. A large outer circle surrounds the houses, with two smaller circles contained within it. With its car park, National Trust gift shop and cafeteria based in what looks like an old granary, Avebury is far busier than the locations we visited earlier. Tourists and families walking their dogs wander between and around these huge megaliths. It looks amazing, but what was the purposes of the stones?

“No one really knows,” says Tom. “There’s plenty of theories, though. What I do know is that where they are positioned denotes their gender. So, the rectangular ones are quite phallic, they’re male, and the diamond ones look like...” “Fannies?” says Joe, before adding, embarrassed: “Please don’t have me saying ‘fannies’ in Metal Hammer.”

Green Lung themselves are causing a bit of stir among the sightseers, who are clearly wondering why these five dapper men are being photographed stroking the stones. The sheep roaming around don’t seem bothered, but that’s sheep for you. MHR384.greenlung.indd

“I finally feel like a big deal,” grins organist John Wright, as a family wonders if they recognise who’s garnering so much attention. “If only they knew!” he adds with a grin. Green Lung themselves aren’t above acting like tourists as they hit the Avebury gift shop. They pick up various candles, crystals, books on Britain’s Mesolithic period and, in Joe’s case, some old-school cola cubes in the sweet section. But Neolithic stones wait for no band, and it’s time to leave Avebury for the final destination on our whistle-stop tour of ancient Britain’s monuments. We need to get a move on, partly because we’ll be losing light and partly because Tom has promised us a roast dinner at a local pub called... oh bollocks, Hammer has just stepped in a massive pile of sheep shit. Joe looks sympathetic. “It’s the best kind of poo to step in,” he says enigmatically, then carries on walking, leaving Hammer to wonder just why that might be the case.

When we arrive at the car park of the aptly named The Druid’s Arms pub a few miles south of Bristol, dusk is beginning to set in. We walk hastily to our final stop-off, the nearby Stanton Drew circle. It’s located in a field owned by a local farmer, who lets the public mingle with his grazing cows among its 27 stones for a fee of £1 (the public pays a quid, not the cows, obviously).

Dodging cowpats – we’ve learned our lesson on that front today – we step inside the 113-metre-diameter circle. It was thought to have been built as a ritual site more than 4,000 years ago. Today, with the sun going down behind the stones and the silhouette of a church visible in the gloaming, it feels like we’re weirdly disconnected from real time. If a group of druids rocked up behind us, no one would bat an eyelid. And speaking of druids, it’s time to hit The Druid’s Arms for a well-earned pint and a good old-fashioned Sunday roast. As we troop into the cramped, cosy boozer, the eyes of the locals swivel as one in our direction.

“I love this pub, it’s got a real Slaughtered Lamb kind of vibe to it,” says Tom. He’s not wrong. The only difference between the remote inn from 1981 horror classic An American Werewolf In London he’s referring to and The Druid’s Arms is the wall-mounted flatscreen TV showing Luton Town vs Liverpool on Sky Sports. Still, the barman is friendly enough, although he does inform us that the roast dinner we’ve been waiting for all day isn’t going to happen as the kitchen has just closed.

Instead, we settle down for a hearty meal of a pint of lager and a bag of cheese and onion crisps. It’s been a memorable and enlightening day, even if Hammer could have done with a bit less sheep shit on our shoes. For Green Lung, and Tom in particular, these ancient sites are all part of the country’s heritage, and should be celebrated as such.

“Everything now has been subsumed into a category,” he says. “Ultimately what we’re passionate about is community. We’re a country that has seasons, we have traditions that happen within those seasons, so it’s community and nature. More and more, people are gravitating back toward wanting a connection with nature. And it’s about finding some kind of utopian vision through culture, and through counterculture.” We’ll drink to that. And maybe the devil will, too.

This Heathen Land is out now via Nuclear Blast. This feature was originally published in Metal Hammer #384

Stephen Hill

Since blagging his way onto the Hammer team a decade ago, Stephen has written countless features and reviews for the magazine, usually specialising in punk, hardcore and 90s metal, and still holds out the faint hope of one day getting his beloved U2 into the pages of the mag. He also regularly spouts his opinions on the Metal Hammer Podcast.