Words by Jon Garcia
Like an ancient spirit summoned from the depths of the English countryside, London’s Green Lung have ascended from the cult underground of Britain’s rock scene to stand at the precipice of stardom.
In just over half a decade, the occult rockers – mixing English folk horror, doom, psychedelia and proto-metal – debuted a demo and EP that put them on the metal map, followed by two critically-acclaimed LPs that eventually gained the attention of Nuclear Blast Records.
“It felt like the record deal was kind of a license to be a bit more ambitious,” vocalist and lyricist Tom Templair said about their upcoming third LP. “Let's bring the songs into a bigger world.”
Green Lung has always dabbled in bombastic heavy metal, conspicuously inspired by the old gods that created the genre. But if Queen, Black Sabbath, Deep Purple and Iron Maiden made up their musical canvas, old British ghost stories and 70s occult cinema provide the color with which they paint.
2021’s autumn-drenched Black Harvest was the musical equivalent to meeting a new friend at the bar and instantly feeling like you’ve known them for years. Songs like “Leaders of the Blind", "Upon the Altar” and “Born to a Dying World” captivated with their explosive stomps, high-octane guitar melodies and the immersive storytelling of Templar’s lyrics and vocal delivery.
The album’s high point, “Graveyard Sun,” is a sardonic power ballad sung from the perspective of the legendary vampire that allegedly haunted (haunts?) London’s Highgate Cemetery. Dripping with melodrama, the song can stand toe-to-toe with any of the great metal epics.
Most importantly, Green Lung hasn't forgotten the secret ingredient in metal, occult or otherwise: fun. To listen to them is to dance, air guitar, twirl, headbang, bounce, bop and writhe in spiritual possession all at once.
“I always thought of us as an occult rock band because occult rock is fun!” Templar said. “It's kind of anything.”
Their latest record and Nuclear Blast debut, This Heathen Land, serves as a guide to occult Albion: eight musical tales that conjure a different locale in Britain. The songs traverse more musical ground than ever, drawing as much inspiration from Queen and Maiden as from Goblin and old BBC documentaries.
“It was one of those things of trying to work out how you do something that still feels warm and nostalgic and rooted in classic metal whilst moving it forward,” guitarist Scott Black said.
They tackle cult horror movie Blood on Satan’s Claw, the Pendle witch trials, sing an ode to Maxine Sanders, the ‘witch queen’ of the Swinging Sixties, and give “Graveyard Sun” a run for its money with Dracula inspired closer “Oceans of Time.”
As they prepare to release their next opus, Templar and Black sat down with KNOTFEST’s Jon Garcia for a conversation about their previous album Black Harvest, the late producer and engineer Martin Birch, horror literature and how honing their writing style has allowed for the most expansive and ambitious Green Lung album yet.
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.
Looking back only a couple of years ago, Green Lung was signed to Svart Records and getting ready to release Black Harvest to a substantially bigger audience than when Woodland Rites came out.
Now you’re on Nuclear Blast and ready to do it again. When you think of yourselves two years ago versus now, what do you think is the biggest difference that jumps out to you?
TOM TEMPLAR: One thing is knowing more than ever what Green Lung is.
We're six years into the band now. More than ever I feel like we've got the musical chops to do this, but also I think Scott and I now have more of a creative relationship where I'm broad brushstrokes talking about the themes a lot earlier in the process.
On some of the songs on This Heathen Land, Scott knows where I want to go lyrically before he starts putting down the pieces of the riffs, the melodies, solos, the choruses; and that influences the destination of the song. So rather than doing it in post with the lyrics and the themes, we're doing it together. I think that's made me feel that this album just is a lot more musically expansive.
SCOTT BLACK: Before, it’d kind of be a case of: here's a fully formed song and let's put some lyrics over it. Or even sometimes here's a vocal melody, and let's build a song around it. Whereas it's a lot more cohesive now, which I think kind of marries the topic of the song with the sound
TOM: A good example is something like “Maxine (Witch Queen)”. I had the idea of writing a song about Maxine Sanders and doing it as a sort of hooky love song. Maxine Sanders’ high point in her recognition – when the Notting Hill Coven was at its height – was sort of ‘68, ‘69. I can hear the sort of BT, 60s, early Deep Purple type sounds in the organs. It feels like it's in that British freakbeat kind of place, even though it still feels Green Lung.
Likewise, I'd written the lyrics to “Song of the Stones” in full. (I) just really liked the idea of doing a song based on that [1892 Grant Allen] short story “Pallinghurst Barrow,” and Scott wrote a demo where he was singing those lyrics. That's not something that would have happened on Woodland Rites. So I just feel like it's a more complete process, I guess. The themes, the music, everything sort of fits together, but now a lot more seamlessly. That's what happens from just working together this long. It's like we can play a bit of tennis with the songwriting process rather than just sort of slap the themes and lyrics on top at the end.
Also, signing with Nuclear Blast itself was something that was kind of beyond our wildest dreams. It felt like the record deal was kind of a license to be a bit more ambitious as well, I think just mentally. It's like, ‘Okay, let’s go for it!’ Let's bring the stage show up a notch. Let's bring the songs into a bigger world.
SCOTT: We approached This Heathen Land a lot more holistically. Black Harvest was a collection of songs we wrote and then, kind of as an afterthought, we made it into an album. Whereas This Heathen Land, each song kind of had a purpose and a function within the album as a whole. I think you can really feel that in the way that the songs flow into each other and the way the songs come together to kind of form a three act structure to the album.
I think that was something that, in retrospect, I would have wanted to improve on Black Harvest if I had the chance to go back. Just be a bit more mindful of it as an album as opposed to a collection of songs. But then it was one of those things where we didn't really have the time or the budget with Black Harvest to do something like that.
TOM: You can see it in the time we had to make these records, you know? Like, Woodland Rites is five days, Black Harvest two weeks, This Heathen Land a month. In a month you do get the time to work out the soundscapes that are going to be between the songs, and get that atmosphere really nailed down and on point. And I love Woodland Rites, you know? I think there's some people (who) will go, ‘Oh, I prefer it when it's raw and more immediate.’ It's just different times, different stages in the band. There's pros and cons to each one and I don't think progression is always linear. Different things on different albums are going to reach people in different ways.
We kind of touched on that the last time we spoke, as far as Black Harvest being more of an extension of Green Lung and what you were doing on Woodland Rites. I feel like that’s doubly true on This Heathen Land.
Talk me through the process of putting this tracklist together and how this album unfolded to be this cohesive unit. Almost like a concept album in a way. It does really feel like an album more so than any of the other ones in the past.
SCOTT: I think part of it was almost having the structure of the album – or at least, functionally, what the songs would be doing – in my head before the songs were even necessarily written.
It starts off with “Forest Church,” “Mountain Throne,” “Maxine,” this kind of big introductory thing before going somewhere a little bit more dark and experimental before having the big banana [“Oceans of Time” at the end.]
So something like “Song of the Stones”, I knew I wanted – after a quarter hour of power – to go somewhere a bit darker, have a bit of the classic Act II darkness to it. I knew I wanted to do something that was very British roots folk. Something that was maybe a little bit more subversive. When we do these slower, more ballad-like songs, they'll always have that kind of big metal climax. Let's just stick with that the whole way through.
“One for Sorrow”, we wanted to do something that was extremely heavy and extremely slow. Something with the heft of Electric Wizard but the grandiosity of classic Green Lung, and that feel of momentum and that feel of it slowing down before you have the end of the album.
Looking back over a lot of my favorite albums, especially older albums from the late 70s and early 80s – the kind of Martin Birch albums that inspired this record – you do have a lot of shade in there, a lot of experimentation. Songs that aren't necessarily of the kind of “classic metal” mold. I think having that sort of variety and that the changes in pace is really important in terms of having an album that feels complete. It feels like it takes you on a journey, you know? Or at least, that's the aim, I guess.
TOM: I think the funny thing is… and it's interesting you say it's a concept album because I think it kind of is, but it kind of only revealed itself as a concept album really towards the end of the process of making it.
We had all the songs written – Scott knew the track order pretty much from the off – and I suddenly realized that, you know, I think I'd been thinking about doing an album in the future that was kind of a “Guide to Occult Albion” or something like that, where each song would have folklore in a specific place. And then I suddenly realized each song already was kind of set in a particularly local part of the UK with its own folklore.
Richard [Wells], the designer we've used since Woodland Rites, and I were working at the art we were like, ‘Let's have a map!’ Then actually, a lot of the stuff like the intro and narration came from the process of doing the art.
So again, it's getting the theme right at the beginning and then that kind of infuses everything. It was a collection of songs until it suddenly became a concept album. It was kind of there in the marble, we just needed to chisel it out.
As far as that album atmosphere: Black Harvest was very much imbued with autumn, Woodland Rites has that springtime forest feel to it. This Heathen Land shows the entire vistas of rolling English hills, foggy moors. Very few bands are able to really conjure a sense of place like Green Lung, and I was so happy when I saw the insert for the record had that map because I love the idea that you can go to these places and listen to the songs.
TOM: I'm really pleased that you say that. I think that's in a way a big part of what I wanted to do with it. I think place is so important in music. A lot of my favorite songs I remember listening to at a certain time in my life, and I think the revelation that, ‘Oh, I can plot all these songs on the map!’ was really exciting because it just opened up some dramatic stuff musically for Scott. He could suddenly play around with primitive synthesizers and try and capture that sort of BBC documentary, 70s type feeling on the album in places and just tie it all together, which was really satisfying musically.
But for me, it was also really exciting in terms of… I've already had people on Instagram, taking a picture of themselves on Pendle Hill and Alderley Edge where [“Mountain Throne” and “Maxine”] are set.
I think Woodland Rites almost felt like a springtime album by accident. It felt like that cusp of spring to summer, just so important in Pagan religions. I was very specifically trying to make Black Harvest the autumn album as a response to that.
I was tempted to do this as a sort of summer album, but I think I'd love people to be able to listen to the songs in all seasons in those places and I feel different each time, you know? I love it when I see someone hiking in Norway or something, listening to “Into the Wild”. I want the songs to accompany people into nature.
Scott, you mentioned the late Martin Birch. He’s worked with so many legendary bands [Iron Maiden, Deep Purple, Blue Oyster Cult, Black Sabbath] but none of them sound the same, even across their own albums. This Heathen Land is heavily inspired by his work, so how did you specifically try and mirror his sound while trying to infuse the modern, Green Lung sensibility?
SCOTT: Kind of almost reinventing ourselves and what we want to be.
Woodland Rites was very much a very early Queen and Black Sabbath kind of proto metal indebted album. Black Harvest was obviously us slathering everything in B3 Hammond organ and working out how to do Deep Purple style stuff. And I think with this it was, ‘Well, where do we go from this?’ We don't want to redo Woodland Rites, we don't want to do another Sabbath album. It was one of those things of trying to work out how you do something that still feels warm and nostalgic and rooted in classic metal whilst moving it forward.
I think discovering a lot of Rainbow records, Dio-era Sabbath and even Mark III-era Deep Purple… it was just a real mixing pot of sounds and influences that only existed for that three- or four-year period. After that, I think Maiden and (New Wave of British Heavy Metal) kind of calcified metal into what it kind of became.
Before then it was much more hard rock and proto-metal, but it was a short period of time and seemed to be centered around albums that Martin Birch was making. It was something really magical in that it didn't really feel like anything else. It kind of felt like its own marooned era of metal, which doesn't seem to be alluded to that much in the music of other people.
So we kind of want to make a sonic love letter to that sound and to that era of metal. A time when metal hadn't quite developed into what it became. It was this kind of unique thing where it wasn't quite prog, wasn't quite hard rock, wasn't quite metal. It was all of them together.
Literature and Green Lung have been entwined since the beginning of the band. What is it about occult literature that grabbed you, Tom?
TOM: It goes back to childhood. It goes back to just weird books you read as a kid, fantasy and stuff. I really remember a book called Witches and Sorcerers by a made up guy called Arkon Daraul which had this like naked woman's back in a pentagram, it just looked insane. I remember buying it just because the cover looked cool. I was getting into heavy metal and stuff, and then ever since then I've sort of collected that stuff.
And I think more than the sort of occult stuff this time, it was more like folklore guides, almost like reference books. It wasn't necessarily here’s the darkest practices of the witches, it was more like if you're on a road trip around Britain here's some weird old stuff to see. It sounds a bit more bucolic I guess, and a bit more universal.
I always thought of us as an occult rock band because occult rock is fun! It's kind of anything. As Scott says, like Martin Birch is like this weird moment where heavy metal doesn't obey by laws. I kind of wanted to strike on some subject matter that would allow for joy, horror, lots of different emotions, you know? Just strangeness and mystery.
I think there's a risk if you'd go fully down the horror route, it becomes the same thing over and over again. I kind of wanted, you know, not to lose the horror aspect. I would be really surprised if we ever write an album that doesn't have a horror influence. We’ve seen folklore more broadly could be this much more colorful palette to play on. Just freeing yourself a bit.
This Heathen Land by Green Lung is available Nov 3 via Nuclear Blast. Get the album - HERE