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EMPIRE STATE BASTARD // “We Don’t Want Any Kind Of Casual People” – Behind The Scenes Of ‘Rivers Of Heresy’

What do Biffy Clyro, Slayer and Oceansize have in common?

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If you had that members of each of those bands would start their own supergroup/side project/you name it on your 2023 bingo card, then you surely would not be surprised by the otherworldly ferocity wielded by Empire State Bastard, consisting of Biffy’s very own Simon Neil, Oceansize frontman and Biffy live guitarist Mike Vennart, the drum lord behind Slayer, Mr. Bungle and beyond, Dave Lombardo, and Bitch Falcon bassist Naomi Macleod.

With their debut album Rivers of Heresy having been released on Friday 1 September via Roadrunner Records, there’s enough angst, beautiful sonic poison, and sweltering metal lying in wait to satiate the most diehard of metalheads, regardless of what vintage floats your boat. 

But just how exactly did this album come to be and what went on behind the scenes making Rivers of Heresy? Recently, Neil and Vennart joined HysteriaMag.com to take you deep behind the curtain of their brand new opus, including some hidden Easter Eggs, live fan favourites and more.



Mike: Daniel P Carter, who’s been a friend of ours for many, many years, did the record cover for Rivers of Heresy. And as soon as we had the songs in the bag, we knew that we wanted him to do the sleeve. And he came up with so many great ideas. As a matter of fact, we had to ban the first cover that he did because he was on such a roll and made things so extreme and thought-provoking, and a little bit sort of…lawsuit-inducing. So we thought we’d better get rid of this and start afresh. And the album cover that he’s come up with is just an absolute semiotic masterpiece. There’s just so many different signs and signifiers of various forms of mind control conspiracy. God, he sent us a thesis on the meaning of every single thing in there, and there’s just so much to get your head around. And I love that there’s just loads and loads of little Easter eggs – there’s even a little Slayer reference in there for the very beady-eyed. I’d actually be amazed if a single person ever gets it. But we’re really blessed. And I think that for the album, because it’s such an eclectic album, to have this sort of Hieronymus Bosch-style ensemble of freakish figures all over the record, I think…

Simon: It’s a hellscape isn’t it!


Simon: Which leads us nicely on to the themes of the record. Myself and Mike have been talking about making this record for probably about 10 years, just trying to get a plan together and trying to find out what our mission is and what the adventure is going to be. And to be honest, it took the pandemic to give us time to make the record. And we channelled our frustrations from Brexit, the state of this country, the way the world is going is not a healthy place for anyone. Then after a pandemic, you had Russia invaded Ukraine and it just felt oppressive, it was just this year upon year of worse and worse news, and we wanted to try and find a way to channel our negativity in a positive way. And it was also really the frustration of us not being able to go out and play shows. We were about to go out and tour a record at that point, and I think if we didn’t have this album to make and this project to channel this kind of rage and frustration, that’s the best two words for it – then I don’t really know where we would’ve ended up. I think it took that kind of catharsis. I think if we’d done it five years ago, we would’ve thought we were angry. We would’ve thought we had the rage. But actually, it really took these last few years to really instil that in us, and we both really had a mission and our own mind. 

We really want to go out there and use our brains with this music. It’s not romantic music, it’s not a sense of longing or optimism. This is just state of the fucking world music. And it’s really hard to look at the state of the world and be anything other than angry and frustrated. You see people being oppressed all over the world, and even in First World countries, everything’s going downhill. It felt like the only way for us to express ourselves and get ourselves through it was to channel it into this record. Now we’re taking it out the road, which we didn’t intend on initially. And I tell you what, each show is becoming more intense than the last. If anything, I feel like we’re becoming a more intense ball of fury. You would think it would dissipate slightly, but actually I think seeing the way the people feel at the shows as well: everyone has this sense of frustration. Everyone wants to get it out because we don’t understand what the fuck’s happening with the world. So that’s what this album is. It’s an expression of that discontent and not being able to understand the perspective of a lot of people in charge.

We really want to go out there and use our brains with this music. It’s not romantic music, it’s not a sense of longing or optimism. This is just state of the fucking world music
[ Simon Neil ]

I also think it is about trying to find connections now. Everything you read in every fucking newspaper is about people being split down the middle and how far apart we are. And to find those moments of connection, whether you’re sharing happiness, sadness, rage, or whatever – that’s what life’s about. And as I say, for us to be taking this band out and playing these shows, it really feels special when you see that deep rooted connection with folk considering we’ve not been a concern for very long. Normally it takes you years to build that connection, and I feel that because of the state of the world, we’re fast-tracking that bond with the people that dig it. And the people that don’t dig it is fine as well! Not everyone needs to love raging music. But the people that get it, really fucking get it. And that’s important. We don’t want any kind of casual people. It’s not a band or a record for someone that’s half in. It’s like: we are all in, so you need to be all in.


Mike: I think The Looming is quite a release live, we play that at the end of the set and that kind of gyrates and builds towards quite an expansive climax. This is all getting a bit sexual now?! But there’s a notable sense of relief and celebration when the end of that song unfolds. You can sense people just going: holy fucking shit. I think throughout the years we’ve managed to sort of build up quite a lot of goodwill between our respective outfits, and so people have just been willing this band into existence for so long that they want to see us succeed. They know that whatever we’re going to put our minds to, they kind of trust us in a way. And I think to come out with this record, they’re like: well, this is not necessarily my kind of thing, but I trust you guys so you carry on!

Simon: Yeah, I think that the live show is a series of constriction and the end release. And as Mike says, with The Looming when we end – it’s this release that doesn’t grab hold again. It’s kind of like you’re letting birds out of a box or something and they’re just flying off. Whereas the whole rest of the time it’s like this ball of tension, and then there’s moments where we just relinquish it. But The Looming at the end, I think we feel like our soul kind of transcends the gig as well. It’s one of those songs that you just have to dwell in. It’s not a song that we play, it’s a song that plays us.

Rivers of Heresy is out now via Roadrunner Records.

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