In which, using an unlikely Nick Cave paraphrase as a starting point, we ask various prominent heavy metal people precisely that question… This time we talk to NWoBHM legends Cloven Hoof‘s leading light and keeper of the flame Lee Andre Payne, as the band prepares to release it’s splendid new album Heathen Cross later this month…

What initially drew you to heavy metal music, and how has your relationship with it evolved over time? “We are a West Midlands band from the heart of England and there is an inherent aggressive sound to our style – Judas Priest, Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin have all sprung up from the same area as Cloven Hoof and we all have a dark edge that is unmistakable. It is true to say this band could not have come from anywhere else. Maybe life is hard in the concrete and glass industrial heartland. Bands from this area seem to sing about the harsh and depressing things in life. However, I like fantasy worlds more than harsh reality as subject matter, maybe it’s a form of escape. JRR Tolkien lived in Birmingham when he was a young man, so we are in good company”.

It’s almost as if it was inevitable and you absorbed metal by osmosis! Can you describe a pivotal moment or experience that solidified your passion for heavy metal? What was the first heavy metal song or album that blew your mind, and why? “My family weren’t particularly musical but I loved bands like Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, Thin Lizzy and Rush. I used to spend every penny I had buying albums and watching live shows. Looking back, I suppose it was serving a musical apprenticeship because I was in the front row intensely studying the guitar and bass players. I was determined to study the chords and musical progressions of those metal gods. One day I vowed to try and make music that moved other people like the songs from my heroes had moved me. If I could do that, then I had touched the sun and my life would mean something”.

How do you think heavy metal culture and music have influenced your identity or personal beliefs? How has heavy metal influenced your personal style, or the way you see the world? “Difficult to say how heavy metal culture may have influenced me as it’s always been a part of my life and can’t see how it could have gone any other way. I’ve always found fans of heavy metal to be friendly, approachable and helpful the world over – what more do you need from a culture. You reap what you sow, and karma will always find you so be kind – Memento Mori – words to live by”.

Do you have any rituals or traditions related to heavy metal? “When I was young it was wearing denim and leather and making sure I’m banging my head at the front. Now after all the weird stuff that has happened since we started playing our signature song Cloven Hoof live (that contains a genuine witches rune spell), I make sure I always wear a crucifix whilst playing that song. Something goes wrong during that number if I don’t”.

Yep, that’s probably a ritual worth observing! What aspects of heavy metal do you find most captivating or resonant, whether it be the music itself, the lyrics, or the community surrounding it? “I play and write songs on guitar but it’s the bass that captivates me, I chose bass because it allows me to drive the music live on stage with a solid foundation and allow the song to build from there. It also allows me to connect with the audience, they can feel the bass in their chest”.

How does heavy metal serve as a form of self-expression for you, either through listening to it or creating your own music? “It is a form of escape, a place where, quite literally, my dreams can get expressed and shared through my music – everything is possible without any boundaries”.

Are there particular themes or messages within heavy metal that you find especially meaningful or empowering? “Themes that I find most meaningful are the one that I write about and those are the Occult, magical, supernatural, and of course fantasy as a subject matter – these for me are all forms of escape allowing endless branches for creativity”.

In what ways do you think heavy metal contributes to broader cultural conversations or movements? “I think heavy metal has inspired countless sub-cultures and will continue to influence many genres of music including pop. The sound, aesthetic and controversy of heavy metal, whether perceived or real, will always be attractive for anyone wanting to make an impact or grab attention, particularly if that genre is normally quite ’vanilla’”.

What are some of the misconceptions you encounter about heavy metal fans? “Misconceptions with heavy metal fans I think are probably the most wrong. Perceptions of people who wear Demin and leather with metal studs and aggressive logos and images on band T shirts could perhaps assume that person is not friendly – in my experience nothing could be further from the truth. In a world where the ‘bad guys’ often look like ‘good guys’, people should always have an open mind and not judge”.

Looking towards the future, how do you envision the role of heavy metal evolving, both for yourself personally and within the larger music landscape? Are you optimistic about what the future holds? “Always stay optimistic, heavy metal I think hasn’t been as good as it is now since the eighties and long may that continue. For us, I think our new Album Heathen Cross is the best we’ve released and with (legendary Jag Panzer singer) Harry Conklin on vocals it has taken our music to new heights and raised the bar even further”.

And finally, here’s your chance to say, in one sentence, “That’s what heavy metal means to me”… “Heavy Metal to me means you are part of the best music movement that has the best fans in the world. It is my life!”

Cloven Hoof’s ripping new elpee Heathen Cross releases on May 31st – read our review of the album HERE and get yourself a copy HERE