In many ways, Burning Witches is the stuff of rock legend: a Swiss, all-female five piece making epic power metal about kicking ass, outwitting the Devil, and celebrating ancient Norse goddesses. To some, this might sound too rad to be true, and yet the band have risen steadily in global renown due to their skyscraper-leaping tunes and riveting live show. For metalheads all over the world, Burning Witches are an example of how buckling down and chasing your dream can result in art like no other. With a story this magical, one wonders if the band’s name is more than a clever reference, and they practice real witchcraft behind the scenes.
“No, not really — we just really love the vibe that the name gives,” says vocalist Laura Guldemond. “Burning Witches, passionate women, loving metal. We love the whole idea, because witches are always seen as these independent women who are maybe a bit scary, and people want to get rid of them, and we love that. We took that whole vibe and put it in the name. So maybe it is part of it.”
On their fourth full-length album The Witch of the North, Burning Witches take things in an epic legendary direction that suits them well. The Norse mythological themes behind the record –specifically relating to the goddess Freya — lend an appropriately huge, old-world scope to the band’s massive sound. Not only that, but writing songs about one of history’s most powerful female characters infused the songs with a level of solidarity that really brought Laura’s lyrics to life.
“I just did a lot of research, and what’s cool is that Freya is sometimes seen as the goddess who gives witches the power to see into the future,” says Laura, “so that’s the Witch of the North. And then it was decided we’d do the whole album with Norse mythology themes, and that type of vibe — the epic vibe you’re talking about. We wanted to have really story-like songs, so it fit together with everything we wanted on this album.”
What was it like recording an album during a global pandemic?
What I can say is that it was easier to keep in the flow of writing. Because normally, we’d have a few gigs in between, and now we could just stay focused. The rest was actually pretty much the same — in Switzerland, everyone could visit each other, so it was no problem. And I’m the one normally staying at home anyway — I normally only come out for gigs. When it was time to record, I went to the studio, but it was easy for our producers, as vocals happen last.
Are you dying to play live, or are you enjoying the time away from the stage?
I do miss it. I am getting the most out of my COVID time, so to speak, because I did a lot of things I normally wouldn’t have time or focus for. I finally have a website — I was thinking of that for years. That, a YouTube channel — finally, I’m doing some of those things. But I just hope I can keep that up when gigs start coming back, because I’d really love for things to get back to normal.
Was it tough to write an album this epic with only your house or flat around you as inspiration?
Ah, it was no problem, I just watched a lot of Netflix! We did have a theme this time, though. I could imagine if you want to write about really personal stuff, it would have been a bit difficult, like your life is on hold, if you’re not allowed to get out that much. But the cool thing is, especially with this album, we chose to write about the theme of Norse mythology and the Witch of the North. It started with Romana [Kalkuhl, guitars] just playing a riff that really reminded her of Viking metal. She said, ‘Laura, write a song about the Witch of the North!’ And I had no clue who that was! Was it something that exists? The idea was about the Scandinavian landscape, snow, ice, those mythologies. So those were the questions I needed to answer for myself.
Norse mythology is often depicted as very male-centric — Viking warriors rescuing princesses or bedding sorceresses. Was there something you discovered in your research that you felt was cool and empowering, or made you think, Why didn’t they teach us about this growing up?
It’s funny, because it’s also kind of a trend — you also see it happening in movies and stuff like that. I also think if you look at Scandinavian cultures, if you compare them to the rest of Europe — for example, how many women are in leadership positions in companies and have the same wage as men in Sweden — it’s better for women than in most countries. And I kept wondering if it had to do with the fact that Christianity didn’t ever fully gut this area. I seriously wondered about it. I would want to research this, because I’m very curious. If you look a the mythology, women were seen as strong beings. Shield maidens were a thing, and valkyries were creatures who were seen as evil spirits, who would not just help fallen warriors but would sometimes just choose a warrior and take them for the army, for Odin. It’s a whole different view that Roman Christianity has put on women.
But that aside, it’s cool to be able to [study these mythologies and figures] — people always wonder if that’s a thing, because we’re an all-female band, to focus on it. It’s not really, but we just enjoy that we’re all women making the thing we love. And I love the whole idea that Freya is this cool persona. Frig is another goddess who’s thought to give witches the power to see into the future, but she’s seen as a goddess of fertility and the homely life, and if you look at Freya, it’s more like lust and war. I think that’s cool, because sometimes they’re seen as the same person, but they create a pretty complete picture of what a woman can be.
This album was produced by Destruction frontman Schmier, who’s also your manager. As an old-school thrash fan, that’s a really cool connection — how did that happen?
It’s really awesome — he’s super passionate about helping us. Years ago, when Romana started the band in 2015, one of the first things she did was go to Schmier and say, ‘Hey, Schmier, I want to do this right — can you manage us?’ He’s helped us with every album. He’s a really creative person and a really passionate person.
As an American growing up seeing German thrash as very icy and harsh, I’ve always imagined him as this intense, severe figure.
It’s really funny — to be honest, he can be a really caring person, but he can also be what you say. When you see him live, that’s also who he is onstage. He’s really going for it!
What about the album are you most excited for fans to hear?
I really hope they also have the personal experience that I had with this album — that when I hear it, I get really drawn into this storyline and vibe that we really went for. I think it’s really there, this coldness, this hardship, this Viking story. It’s totally metal, and it fits what we do! What I love is it creates a lot of dynamics. It makes everything sparkle — I don’t know how else to explain it!
Burning Witches’ The Witch of the North comes out Friday, May 28th, on Nuclear Blast, and is available for preorder.
Words by Chris Krovatin