"It feels like we're poised to take the reins." We got Wargasm, Loathe, Heriot, Ithaca and Blackgold together to discuss why British metal is entering a new golden age

Members of Heriot, Blackgold, Wargasm, Loathe and Ithaca hanging out
(Image credit: Future (Will Ireland))

Something strange has been happening over the past few years. The British metal scene, once a scrappy assemblage of bands perpetually existing in the shadow of their more talked-about contemporaries from across the Atlantic, has transformed into something vital, innovative and genuinely exciting. It’s not like the UK hasn’t produced its share of iconic bands over the years, from Black Sabbath, Judas Priest and Iron Maiden to the likes of Carcass, Cradle Of Filth and Bring Me The Horizon. There have been plenty of pivotal scenes, too: NWOBHM, grindcore, the ongoing UK hardcore movement and countless others.

But what’s happening now feels different. A generation of British bands with individual voices and distinct identities is emerging and coalescing into something bigger. Individually, these artists have little in common beyond shared geography, but collectively there’s a breadth, ambition and righteous self-belief to what they’re doing, whether it’s the vaulting soundscapes of Sleep Token, the dizzying math-metal of Pupil Slicer or the gut-level rage of Malevolence and Bleed From Within.

Let’s be clear: this isn’t about flag-waving or jingoistic tub-thumping. Pretty much every country on the planet will have its own similar scene going on. But this is exciting because it’s happening right on our doorstep, from the grassroots level up – and it’s only going to grow.

So what exactly is happening and why is it happening now? To answer these questions, we’ve brought together members of five bands at the heart
of British metal’s new golden generation: Ithaca’s Djamila Boden Azzouz, Debbie Gough of metallic hardcore ragers Heriot, Sam Matlock from dance-punk provocateurs Wargasm, Kadeem France from experimental metallers Loathe and nu metal party-starters Blackgold’s masked frontman, Spookz.

As they arrive in Metal Hammer’s offices for this state of the metal nation round table discussion, there’s a tangible buzz in the air. Some of them have met before and greet each other with hugs. Others are meeting for the first time, offering compliments and mutual respect. It’s further proof that something is happening within the British metal scene – we’re just here to find out exactly what.

Metal Hammer line break

You all look pretty happy to see each other

Debbie Gough (Heriot): “I’m really happy and honoured to be considered part of what’s going on with all of these guys.”

Sam Matlock (Wargasm): “Definitely. I don’t personally know everyone here, but I have a lot of respect for what everyone is doing.”

How strong is the British metal scene currently?

Spookz (Blackgold): “Really strong. With bands like Bring Me and Architects getting a shot at headlining some of the biggest festivals around, it feels like we’re poised to take the reins from America again. No shade to America, but there’s this sound coming from there right now where all these bands are on the same label and they kinda sound the same. Looking round this table, we’ve all got our own thing going on. That’s exciting.”

Kadeem France (Loathe): “There’s a lot of bands that are just doing sick things. I feel like British metal is at the forefront of all metal, you know what I mean?”

Djamila Boden Azzouz (Ithaca): “Yeah, for sure. For a long time, when people said the words ‘British metal’, they were referring to a legacy – Iron Maiden and old-school stuff. It’s taken a while for modern metal bands to get to that level where that is starting to go away. That’s a shame, because a lot of people in our scene have been grinding for a long time. It’s nice we’re starting to get that recognition now.”

Debbie: “I definitely feel like we’ve all got our own identity. Every band here sounds different.”

Are there any characteristics British bands share?

Sam: “To me it’s all about innovation. I’ve always felt that America does a sound first, like with Ramones, and then Britain improves on it, like with The Clash, and takes it further. I look at Bring Me the Horizon and they’ve brought in those pop elements, but when they’re heavy, they’re fucking destructive. Bring Me headlining Download is such a massive victory. The online discourse not so long ago was so negative to them, now it’s time to change the guard.”

Kadeem: “That’s it. For me a big awakening was the Download Pilot. You [Wargasm] played the Main Stage, we played the Main Stage and suddenly we all looked at each other and went, ‘Oh, so younger British bands can do this and pull it off!’ We need to have that attitude more. Bands like Maiden are legendary, but that doesn’t mean the current bands can’t stand next to them and put on just as good a show. It was such an eye-opener: ‘Why can’t we do this every year?’ It was sick.”

Sam: “A UK-only Download would be amazing.”

Is the UK is a good environment for creating heavy music?

Djamila: “I think the fact that we are a small island actually benefits us. The US is so huge that you end up getting an endless amount of bands and a lot of them sound the same. The talent pool is smaller here, it means we’re able to cherry pick the things that we really love and, like Sam said, expand on them and make them our own. Our relatively smaller size is a strength.”

Sam: “One thing that we used to do – and Britain had a real reputation for this – was to build people up and knock them down again. But I don’t think our metal scene has that. Everyone I meet from any band in this country is always like, ‘Fuck yeah! Go you!’ when we get a bit of success. We lift each other up. I don’t know if all the other scenes can say the same.”

Breaking America always used to be the holy grail for British bands. Is that still the case?

Debbie: “It’s still a huge thing. The dream of breaking America is still something that we think of a lot, but is it really a reality? Is it really important or essential to your career? Or is it just a dream?”

Kadeem: “It was always a big thing for me growing up; I’ve always felt like if you break America then you break the world, but I don’t even think that’s the case anymore. Like Sam has just said, we can lift each other up. I’m not saying we don’t need America, but... we don’t need America.”

Sam: “Yeah, you gotta work out if it’s a myth or not. Do you as an artist want to go to this massive place and try and ‘break big’ over there, or does your team in the industry just want you to do that?”

Kadeem: “I feel like in America rock and metal is just much more a part of their culture. It’s just not so much over here.”

Spookz: “Yeah, they get rock radio all day. Our only rock radio show is on at 1am or something. In the States you get Korn all day and here you gotta be one of the goths who wake up when the sun goes down to hear it.”

Sam: “So, how’s that gonna change? Do we have to wait until the demand is so big that they just can’t ignore it or what?”

Spookz: “It’s starting to change. They play Bring Me and Slipknot on the [mainstream] radio, but we need a whole culture shift.”

Djamila: “There are people who are trying as well, a lot of time it’s the last people you expect. I listen to 6 Music a lot and [DJ] Craig Charles is such an icon – he’s played Slipknot and Bring Me, he’s even played my band! To hear someone like that playing my band on the BBC at two in the afternoon is wild.”

Was there a time where people felt American bands were just a bit more glamorous than British bands?

Sam: “Yeah, maybe. But look around this table. Everyone looks really different, they’ve all got their own thing going on. We don’t look like a bunch of generic jeans and t-shirt blokes, we look like the fucking Warriors. That’s exciting, having that identity.”

Kadeem: “The culture has changed a lot. Look at big pop and hip hop artists: they’re using a metal aesthetic. Being alternative is cool now. When I was in secondary school, I’d get ripped just for wearing a pair of Vans, that’s how bad it was. These days it’s much easier to find your own identity, and I think that’s why you’re seeing this group of people here today.”

Debbie: “That’s because there’s so much more individualism about being in a band now. The template for what a band is – four blokes with guitars – just doesn’t exist anymore. That’s been smashed to pieces and, to me, that’s really refreshing. I spent most of my life looking at bands and it was stressful to me because I didn’t know how I was going to fit into that mould. Now I feel so lucky that it’s not something I should worry about. I have a voice in metal.”

Is the scene more inclusive since those days?

Djamila: “For sure. This would have been a bunch of white blokes in black t-shirts with the same haircut. That uniform got so boring – straight white dudes playing in the woods. I don’t know who wants to see that anymore, it’s just so played out. The time for being neutral is over. That’s in your music too. I don’t think the modern fan wants their bands to sit back and not say things about what is going on in the world. You have to stand for something.”

Kadeem: “Representation is huge. Growing up I never saw anyone who looked like me in a band. I don’t need a role model but just seeing someone that made you feel a bit less alone. That would have been cool.”

Is that traditionalist, conservative gatekeeper mentality something metal has struggled to shake off?

Djamila: “Definitely. Even if you go back only a few years, as someone who wanted to just point out some of the problems in our scene, people would get so defensive. Just because you dared to suggest that maybe we celebrate the women in our community. I feel like the younger generation of British metal fans want that diversity, because they are a diverse group of people! Ten years ago, a queer, Arab lady running round onstage screaming was weird. These days people don’t bat an eyelid.”

Debbie: “Metal, particularly in this country, is pretty unique in that you have to work so hard to grow in comparison with other genres of music.”

Kadeem: “Yeah, when you talk about the differences between US and UK bands, we have to work so much harder to achieve anything. But I think it produces better bands. You have to grind a bit more.”

Is the fact that heavy music isn’t embraced as readily in the UK as it is in Europe or the US frustrating to you?

Debbie: “I think people enjoy the grind, but it reaches a point where it becomes frustrating. It’s tough to do that over a long period of time. I think the bands that came before us just got exhausted at not getting anywhere. It is just financially harder to be in a band these days as well. That ‘just jump in a van with your mates and play’ thing is over.”

Spookz: “There are so many ways where it isn’t financially viable anymore. I don’t wanna get into Brexit, but you used to just be able to pack up and go play in France. Not anymore. You need all these passes and bits of paper and forms filled out. It’s mad now!”

Do you think the wider music industry in this country is as interested in nurturing and developing heavy bands and artists as it is artists from other genres?

Djamila: “Not at all! I think a festival like Reading and Leeds have made a mistake by shunting metal away from it. I get that other genres are more popular right now, but in Europe you have diverse bills. Why not here?”

Spookz: “It’s a shame to see Reading, where you used to be able to see System Of A Down or Limp Bizkit, just sort of give up on that.”

Sam: “It really is. Soon they’ll have to book a band like Sleep Token, because they’re just going to get that big, and they could fill a day with young metal bands and it would be incredible. In Europe they love metal so much, but if you go and play Britney Spears at an afterparty, they don’t like that. But in the UK, you can go to the heaviest gig there is and then go to some dingy club where a bunch of metal fans are losing their shit to Charli XCX all night, and I love that about us. I got no animosity towards pop – I wish they’d let us in like we do them.”

Do you see that happening anytime in the near future? Metal being embraced by the mainstream?

Spookz: “If that Ed Sheeran and Cradle Of Filth collab ever comes out! Ha ha ha! I dunno, metal has always been for the weirdos and the freaks, hasn’t it? Now everyone thinks they’re a freak.”

Sam: “Well, these [gig and festival] bookers need to be careful. They can book a load of stuff that is really popular on TikTok and make some money now, but are those fans gonna be there next year? Are they repeat buyers? A metal fan will buy tickets for five shows on one tour. I’m not sure if a lot of the stuff they’re replacing rock bands with has the same loyalty.”

Metal fans are famously loyal. ‘Legacy’ bands like Maiden, Priest and Ozzy are still huge decades after they started. Do you feel connected to that lineage, or do you see yourself as part of something new?

Djamila: “I have no problem with those legacy bands, I just don’t want our scene to be defined by them forever. This is happening right now, and we have real things to say that are relevant to people right now.”

Sam: “I’m not about tearing things down. Punk and grunge had to kill off a bunch of things to get where it needed to get to, and that’s cool, I love those bands, but I don’t think you get anywhere now with an attitude of wanting to destroy stuff. I respect the legacy. It’s nice to be a small part of it.”

So how does this scene grow so bands like yours get to the same status as those legacy bands? What needs to happen next?

Sam: “Keep feeding the fans, grow an army, that’s the main thing. The UK fanbase feeds a lot of the creativity, I think. [To Spookz] Remember those little shows we did together? They were amazing, the fans just made so much effort in a way that you don’t see anywhere else – the queer-punks that show up, some of them are really young and they look cooler than you! I’m not sure you get that in other countries, and there’s no way you play to those kids for a few days and don’t think ‘I’m going to write a much better song’ at the end of it.”

“I love that. I love that there is so much individualism and that there is a place for us all in metal.”

Djamila: “The people that come to our shows are just so passionate and I feel like they are really attentive to what we’re saying, particularly here in the UK. They really listen, they want us to speak up against the absolute nonsense that is going on in our country. It’s great to feel heard and seen by those people. I think there is a really special group of young people that are getting inspired by heavy music in this country, and that’s so great.”

Kadeem: “I think we’re on the verge of a resurgence. It’s got to happen.”

If we were to do this again in 10 years, what do you hope the British scene would look like then?

Kadeem: “I think the youth of this scene are now more open-minded. We’re already seeing the better side of it now. In 10 years, it’s going to be something beautiful, I can see it.”

Sam: “You’ll be sat here with much cooler and much more talented people than us. Whatever we think is heavy is going to be some weak-ass shit compared to that. It will be awesome.”

Djamila: “I’d like to see some chaos and carnage, young people in this country give less and less of a fuck already. I want them to set fire to everything.”

Spookz: “I’d like us to be sat here with pop artists, no genre boundaries, just music without segregation.”

Debbie: “I feel really excited about the future. I think the struggles with identity which we’ve had in the past will be totally gone. Being able to fully embrace your own unique personality will be completely normal, and the music will continue to grow and evolve even more. I’m really positive about it.”

Published in Metal Hammer #376

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.