Orange Goblin's Ben Ward on respect, the effect of London and the power of heavy metal

Orange Goblin frontman Ben Ward is an imposing man. Standing well over six feet tall with long hair, a beard, tattoos and a deep, booming laugh, he’s your archetypal metalhead and someone you definitely want on your side in a bar fight. Fitting then that we meet in a pub around the corner from his office, where he works as a booking agent to pay the bills outside of the band. 

Discovering the world of heavy metal through Motörhead’s appearance on The Young Ones, and later Iron Maiden on Top Of The Pops, Ben saw Lemmy as the coolest guy on the face of the planet – a man with a no-fucks-given attitude playing rock ‘n’ roll at a million miles an hour and adored for it. It’s no wonder Ben ended up in a metal band.

When did you first decide to form a band?

“Growing up, football was my first love and I didn’t pay much attention to heavy metal until late 80s/early 90s and the …And Justice For All album by Metallica really struck a chord. I became friends with Martin our bass player because we were both at QPR together as apprentices, and I used to go back to his house after training and listen to all these metal albums that I’d never heard before. He was really into the death metal at the time, the early sort of Death and Obituary and stuff like that. ...And Justice For All was when I thought ‘I want to have a go at doing this.’ Through my friendship with Martin we got a few friends together and started thrashing stuff out but it was pretty terrible at the time ha ha.”

So Orange Goblin wasn’t your first band?

“Essentially it was, it was the same people. Joe on guitar, Pete O’Malley – who went on to leave the band – on the other guitar. We got one of their schoolfriends, this guy called Reese, on the drums. But he was useless. We had our first photoshoot and he turned up in these Umbro football shorts, and I was wearing a Cannibal Corpse hoodie and Obituary shirt.”

Was the plan to look as metal as possible?

“Yeah but it didn’t work with these black stonewashed jeans and hair down to here with soppy curtains. That was a like a precursor to Orange Goblin, a band we started beforehand called Our Haunted Kingdom. It was a lot of fun, mainly influenced by the Peaceville days of My Dying Bride, Anathema, Paradise Lost and obviously Cathedral was a massive influence. It was only when we started hearing the American doom bands like Pentagram, St Vitus, Trouble and a lot of the ‘70s obscure rock that [Cathedral frontman] Lee Dorrian was turning us on to was when we changed direction and to what we preferred to do. And that’s how Orange Goblin came around as well. Playing this style of music, the name Our Haunted Kingdom doesn’t really work, but Orange Goblin suited perfectly.”

Despite guitarist Joe Hoare being the only Londoner in the band, Orange Goblin all found themselves in The Big Smoke. In the mid-late '90s the band immersed themselves in the local scene that was already thriving and about the deliver a sonicboom of stoner/doom across the British Isles.

Did it feel like something was happening at the time in the British metal scene?

“It was exciting. Rise Above Records had started taking off with the first Electric Wizard releases and our first couple of albums, and you had bands like Iron Monkey taking that doom template but adding a real hardcore edge to it. You had the Red Eye in London putting on these eclectic bills so we’d do shows with the likes of Iron Monkey but also have Akercocke playing as well. It was a good scene because everybody got to know each other.”

How did being from London affect your sound? 

“The London thing was beneficial for our early sound because we wanted to emulate the classic British bands we were fans of – Priest, Motörhead, Saxon. We wanted to be classically British and not have that American sound, so being rooted in London helped that. And it was a massive foot up when it came to getting shows because every touring band comes through London on their UK tour, so we were fortunate enough to get slots supporting Fu Manchu, Monster Magnet, Danzig, all these bands because we were the local band who had a bit of a buzz about us, which exposed us to bigger audiences. We don’t take that for granted, we really appreciate that was a product of our environment. 

Did you feel like you had it lucky that you were all in London?

“I do think it’s down to luck and that’s the case with a lot of bands that make it. There are a lot of talented bands that never made it because they were either out the way or never got the opportunities. We were lucky we were in London when we were, we were lucky we played the style of music at the time that we were. When we first got together there weren’t many people that gave Black Sabbath the props they deserved, it was only around ‘97 when they did the first reunion shows that people started to pay attention again – they were seen as boring old farts for a long time. We came out around the time of their revival so that was another stroke of luck in our favour.”

Do you think British bands still need to move to London to ‘make it’?

“Now with social media and Bandcamp, you can record your demo and have it out there to the world, whereas when we first started we were trading tapes and contacting zines by letter. We used to have to go to shows and stand in the queue handing out flyers for our next show. You don’t get that grassroots level any more, you don’t seen bands doing it. The only people you see handing out flyers at gigs are people who want you to go to their clubs afterwards, and I think they get told to fuck off more than anybody in the world ha ha!

“The way we did it back then, it gives you more of an appreciation of the work you have to put in to achieve anything. These days bands can record demos in bedrooms on their phones, put three tracks up, send them to promoters and book yourself a UK tour. In our day we had to save up months of dole money, book ourselves into a studio to record three songs then hand it out to people and stand there trying to get on to shows via word of mouth. But I find that more organic and it means you have the opportunity to create those lifelong friendships with bands, promoters and people in the scene that you probably don’t get any more without the face-to-face connection.”

Throughout Orange Goblin’s 20+ year career, they’ve become infamous as the ultimate party band. Their live shows are booze-fuelled celebrations of heavy metal, with fists raised to the sky, roaring along to the rampaging riffgasms of Red Tide Rising, The Fog, Saruman’s Wish and more. Of course, they’re not the young men they used to be, with hangovers lasting much further into the afternoon. 

Orange Goblin are known as as beer-swilling party animals. How much of that is true and how much is an act?

“It’s a form of entertainment, it’s the same as going to the theatre, and people who buy tickets want to be entertained. As a band we want to encourage those people to keep coming back to see us on the next album, so you’ve got to give them something for their money and part of that image in heavy metal gives you an opportunity to look cool. “I looked up to Lemmy and Lemmy looked cool, and I liked the whole idea of sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll, so it goes hand in hand and it’s important to see it through.

“I’ve had to play it down since I’ve had a child and not tell him all the things we used to get up to, or still get up to, but it’s still part and parcel of that heavy metal image. Heavy metal was always seen as the music of rebellion from the very outset with Blue Cheer and Steppenwolf when it was connected to the biker scene. It’s about flipping the bird to the man and not doing what society tells you to do. I think sadly some of that got lost along the way and some of the bands these days I see as too clean cut, coming offstage sipping their mineral water while they talk to their accountant and stuff. Where’s the fucking danger? Where’s the excitement? I wish I’d been around in LA in 1986/87 when Guns N’ Roses released Appetite For Destruction because that was a band that lived and breathed rock ‘n’ roll. Who doesn’t love stories of debauchery? Orange Goblin is one of the bands that have tried to maintain that within our ethos.”

What’s been the biggest change in the metal scene since 1995?

“There’s been a few. The development and introduction of social media and recording techniques they’ve enhanced and some would say deteriorated a lot of stuff, which is why you get a lot of the classic bands sticking to the old analogue style of recording rather than embracing Pro Tools. But it goes in cycles, you get different things coming along. Nu metal was huge, which was the anti-christ to us, but that quickly dies out and other things come along. Deathcore came along and stuff like that, but the one true constant is that good music is good music. You’ve got the classic bands like  Zeppelin, Sabbath, Priests and Maiden whose music is timeless, it’s always going to be there and it’s always going to be a core influence, no matter what happens in the future of the heavy metal.”

What is the most important thing being in a band has taught you?

“Respect for everybody. You’ve got to have that respect on the way up because you wanna have it on the way down as well ha ha! Have respect for everything. Not everybody plays the type of music that you’re into, but they have a passion for it so you’ve got to respect that. I see a lot of people criticising Bring Me The Horizon or Bullet For My Valentine but I don’t see the point in slagging them off, they’re playing metal music that they love. They’re from a different era to me but they’re good at what they do and achieved success and worked hard for it.”

What does the phrase heavy metal mean to you?

“It’s a style of music that represents rebellion and power. It’s good fun, it’s entertainment, it’s dangerous, it incorporates everything you love to do but society tells you you shouldn’t – the sex, the drugs, the horror… everything that’s cool rolled into one type of music. It can be from simple cartoons and comic books on the subject to the bands that take it to the very extreme, and I love everything in between. It’s a way of life. Once you fall in love with heavy metal you can’t get away from it. If you do, you never really loved it in the first place.”

Orange Goblin's new album The Wolf Bites Back is out now.

Orange Goblin are touring the UK later this month with Corrosion Of Conformity, Fireball Ministry and Black Moth. 

Orange Goblin 2018 tour dates

26 Oct: Southampton, Engine Rooms – BUY TICKETS
27 Oct: Birmingham, The Institute – BUY TICKETS
28 Oct: Nottingham, Rock City – BUY TICKETS
30 Oct: Manchester, The Ritz – BUY TICKETS
01 Nov: Glasgow, O2 ABC – BUY TICKETS
02 Nov: Sheffield, The Plug – BUY TICKETS
03 Nov: Cardiff, Cardiff University Great Hall – BUY TICKETS
04 Nov: London, The Forum – BUY TICKETS

Luke Morton joined Metal Hammer as Online Editor in 2014, having previously worked as News Editor at popular (but now sadly defunct) alternative lifestyle magazine, Front. As well as helming the Metal Hammer website for the four years that followed, Luke also helped relaunch the Metal Hammer podcast in early 2018, producing, scripting and presenting the relaunched show during its early days. He also wrote regular features for the magazine, including a 2018 cover feature for his very favourite band in the world, Slipknot, discussing their turbulent 2008 album, All Hope Is Gone.