With the advent of the internet, today’s metal fans have been granted a glimpse into what once was. Various old VHS clips of Metal for Melbourne festivals gone by can be found on YouTube, with bands like Tyrus and Nothing Sacred thrashing away in front of packed rooms in the eighties.
The problem today is that anyone can watch a YouTube clip and become an instant self-appointed expert. To be a metal fan back in the day meant being perpetually broke and splashing your pocket money on records, gigs and all the assorted paraphernalia. You actually had to be there to know what it was like. You couldn’t get away with being an armchair expert and imposters were easily weeded out.
Unfortunately, by the time the current generation of metalheads had been born, many of the bands featured at Metal for Melbourne 2017 had long fallen by the wayside. Of the eleven bands, only Hobbs’ Angel of Death performs and records regularly. Hence, the chance to see bands like Abramelin, Ion Drive and Renegade reform could not be missed by anyone who was either a part of this scene or was simply born too late.
Bursting out the blocks on the main stage were Persecution, with their tight brand of thrash instantly reminding everyone what it was all about back then. No breakdowns or soulless djent-riffing, no stupid fringes and baseball caps and certainly no need for political correctness. Renegade certainly lived up to that, with their ultra-perverse brand of blasphemy making them no friend of Cardinal Pell. “People like Cardinal Pell should face one person”, declares bible-tearing vocalist Johnny Beer. “And that’s The Executioner!” After launching into that number, Beer recalls the life of departed guitarist Ron Cartledge to a huge cheer from the crowd. For all the decades that have passed, the metal community in Melbourne remains as tight-knit as ever.
Renegade were one of a few bands to mix metal and punk into something faster, meaner and heavier. One of the best exponents of that sound was Depression and a collective groan is exhaled by the audience when guitarist Smeer decides against an encore. “Shut up!” growls the axeman, looking increasingly like Freddie Krueger. “Or I’ll stick a pin up your arses and steal all my lollies back in your dreams!” The true meaning of his statement may be lost on some, but the snarled sentiment was plain to see.
Air raid sirens herald the return of the Bengal Tigers, with vocalist Gordon Heald sounding as good as he did thirty years ago. With the sounds of old school metal replaced by Abramelin’s brand of death metal, the change could not have been more dramatic. Having previously featured the drumming talents of Euan Heriot (Blood Duster) and Matt Skitz (Damaged), there was no more appropriate replacement than Dave Haley (Psycroptic).
Attacking the double kicks with lethal precision, songs like Human Abbatoir were taken to another level. Vocalist Simon Dower was nothing short of brutal and it wasn’t long before the punters were stage diving and crowd surfing. Typically, an overzealous response by security was invoked, with their unnecessary stage presence thoroughly appreciated by all in attendance.
Whilst bands like Taramis and Nothing Sacred provided more traditional metal fare and a return to clean vocals, Mass Confusion performed songs that sounded like perfect disasters. Seemingly inches away from total collapse, the band kept it together with their tongues planted firmly in their cheeks. Rounding out the night was the Peter Hobbs double header of Tyrus and Hobbs’ Angel of Death, with the thrash feast an early contender for gig of the year for most metalheads.
With Metal for Melbourne 2016 being a sell-out and a total success, it would be staggering if it did not return next year. Credit has to be given to the organisers for having the vision and reuniting members of the old guard, especially for the benefit of those who missed out. Performances across the board were top notch and it served as a reminder as to why Melbourne metal has the reputation that it does across the globe. With musicians like Jello Biafra (Dead Kennedys), Hellhammer (Mayhem) and Phil Anselmo (Pantera) being vocal fans of bands like Hobbs’ Angel of Death and Depression, the reasons were plain for all to see. Metal for Melbourne 2016 proved unmatchable in terms of intensity, brutality and most importantly, community.