Perth writer James Birkin revives our (very) occasional Backtrackin’ feature with this retrospective on one of Australia’s greatest thrash bands – Allegiance!
Formed in 1990, Perth band Allegiance were an institution to the metal scene in and around their home town and, down the track, nationally, until their demise in 1997. With an insatiable appetite for live shows and riding the success of the cassette demo releases ‘Make the Pledge’ and ‘Torn Between Two Worlds’, Allegiance was on the cusp of the international breakthrough Australia needed in the genre before the love waned internally. Having disbanded in 1997 and with just the odd reunion (the last was as KISS support in 2004 at the WACA), there is a growing swell of support for the band to again re-form and celebrate what will be the 20th anniversary of the much sought after D.E.S.T.I.T.U.T.I.O.N album.
Bass player Dave Harrison explains the initial underground demo releases that have become rare collector’s items and Allegiance’s live reputation.
“Just starting out it was a way as young musicians to hone our craft, as back in those days unlike now recording an album in a studio was quite an expensive undertaking, so it was a good way to develop and also gain a fan base and musical momentum at the right time. The demos created a good buzz for us as pre-internet times as there was a large worldwide underground network of fanzines . Tape trading was a big thing as well so we took full advantage of that sending out demos out all over the world and made many metal friends some of which we still have today.“
Guitarist Tony Campo goes further: “It was a bunch of guys with the love of something more heavier. We had been listening to more Bay area stuff and liked the chunk of it all. Dave (Harrison) was the one who sent tapes around the world and gained the interest outside Oz, he also contacted a lot of the fanzines and kept that going. I think when Rob Halford’s EMAS got interested that’s when we thought we were going places.”
With a solid foundation laid in the early Allegiance years it wasn’t long before the opportunity came to support international bands including Pantera, Fear Factory, Slayer, Machine Head, Carcass, Sepultura and a host of others. Pretty much, if the band touring was heavy or even alternative, Allegiance was the band to kick off proceedings.
“Yes, we toured with a ton of bands and got to hang with many, especially the national runs,” Harrison says. “Fear Factory was a band we got on well with sharing vans and stuff. Slayer tour was also great. Another good one was a bit of a re-union show we played with KISS at the WACA ground, also the main stage runs on the Big Day Out were fantastic for us as we really tore it up and had large crowds going totally nuts, metal dominates the live festival environment. “
With international tours came more opportunity to meet people within the cut throat music industry, as Harrison recalls.
“Some other cool ones from memory were Kreator, Anthrax, Soundgarden, Sacred Reich, Rollins Band, Fight and Beastie Boys, which was interesting as they introduced us to a guy called Dave Pinsky who ended up as a producer on our first album! We played with a whole bunch of diverse bands – everything from Morbid Angel, Pungent Stench to Mudhoney, we even had a show booked with Nirvana that got cancelled due to Kurt getting sick.”
Campo recalls things a little differently.
“We did hang out with a few of those bands in the day. We knew Sepultura before we played with them as they knew some surfer friends of ours. Slayer were a bit stand offish in the first few days of touring until they realised we had good weed. Then Tom (Araya) was always sniffing around our dressing room. No great friendships though. Most people in the industry I found seemed quite shallow and no lasting friendships were formed. I had more friends in local Perth bands than the greater touring community. I still see a lot of bands from the day ( living in London), still doing it, still broke and still frustrated with the industry. There are also a lot of bands that take the industry for what it is and don’t take it too seriously and have fun in small venues.”
Rob Halford, with Fight at the time of meeting Allegiance, was lavish in praise of the Perth band and was said to have helped spread the word internationally. Dave is philosophical.
“Wasn’t any musical input as it was more a management thing at the time, shopping for a deal type thing. We actually played some shows with his band Fight, and I later supported the reunited Rob Judas Priest with my other traditional metal band Black Steel a few years back. Rob did say some nice things in the press about us at the time”.
There was even a rumour that the second album, Skinman was to be produced by the Judas Priest icon, however; Campo quashes that rumour quickly.
“Rob Halford did nothing really for us,” he says. “I think he just wanted to prop up his Fight tour of Australia. We were recording D.E.S.T.I.T.U.T.I.O.N at the time. His company said it was a bit heavy for them to do anything with. Although when it charted in Oz he was quick to take credit. You can read this on his web page. Before he came to Oz he did press saying he couldn’t wait to meet us. When we toured together he never even watched the band or talked to us. When he returned to the States he never contacted us again.”
Having taken the national scene by storm and with their debut album rising in the charts the band seemed destined to make their mark on the international stage. Harrison laments the timing.
“The opportunities could have been there and we had friends in international bands we had toured nationally with, but these days it’s common place for Aussie bands to take it to the world, the communication channels and opportunities and barriers are now broken down, but back then it was a big financial obstacle as Australia is isolated from the Euro festival scene, so start up costs were a lot greater back then.”
The motivation was obviously there for the band, unfortunately 90s metal in Australia was not as financially responsive as it is today.
“No labels in Australia really wanted to back a metal band in this way as it was geared around the whole radio marketing to the masses thing,” Harrison continues. “Many of the pop bands have lived and died by the radio but metal has remained strong so it is good to see interest in the band especially in the collector’s circles. With the resurgence of thrash and other classic metal styles some of the sub genres in metal remain somewhat timeless and a bit more resilient to the fashion trends of the day.”
Campo regrets the lost opportunity.
“No, Allegiance was never offered international shows. We also didn’t have the budget those days. Much later in 98 I took the Allegiance music to Europe. (Hence the ones for sale on eBay). The band by this time weren’t interested in taking it further and it fell apart.”
So if Allegiance had started now, could they had been amongst the echelon of metal in Australia in 2013? Harrison has no doubt.
“Yes with the tools available to us now Allegiance would have been touring the planet not unlike some of the current Aussie bands like Parkway Drive and the rest are doing now.”
With D.E.S.T.I.T.U.T.I.O.N heading to its 20th year anniversary the long time fans will be glad to know that the band intend re-releasing the album (rated KKKK by Kerrang! in 1994) in the near future.
“Yes, digital most definitely I would say as the original CD pressings now go for some crazy prices so there seems to be interest for sure. Definitely something to look into,” Harrison reveals.
Campo is more confident; “Hopefully it’ll be available on iTunes soon”.
A dedicated Facebook page Bring Back Allegiance has been created with fans posting up some incredible footage of the band back in it’s heyday along with a heap of flyers, articles and photos. It’s clear that the fans want a reunion of some sort. Harrison is taken back by the recent exposure
“It’s very cool that all this Allegiance nostalgia and memorabilia seems to be turning up. I guess it is possible, we do sometimes have promoters contact us about such things and it has happened a couple of times in the past, but who knows. Logistically a bit difficult because Tony now lives in Europe, but not impossible to work around.”
Campo is circumspect on any possible reunion; “We were never the closest of friends. We especially aren’t now. Although most of us liked making the Allegiance music, we were very hard on each other to perform well at the time. I would love to play the songs again, even in a rehearsal room”.
There have been many stories circulating from 1997 of how the band disbanded, with rumours of personal clashes to musical differences being cited by fans.
Harrison recalls, “The usual story, just stagnation, not going to the next level and people not seeing eye to eye. We were all still in our 20s and had been going since teenagers. Was a shame but we have got back together a couple of times since and all get on well.”
Campo is more upfront.
“Because the band was totally self-funded we had a lot of money tied up with the Skinman album. We really were pushing for an overseas release and weren’t getting much joy from Polygram. We had signed a two album deal with them so our hands were tied for a release date. It took over 18 months to release. By this time management were more interested in the Big Day Out Festival and we were frustrated with not touring. Infighting started and pointing the finger at each other for various shit. Dave was sacked and really that was the end of the band.”
Allegiance played some monumental shows across the early 90s from their early beginnings of sharing the stage at the Bindoon Festival in front of 15,000 mud-plastered fans to Big Day Out Festivals on the main stage, to small clubs and big stadiums.
“The most obvious one was the Perth Entertainment Centre that was demolished not so long ago, it was amazing to play that place I remember the first time we played with Pantera there were like 8000 people packed to the rafters,” Harrison says.
He continues: “On the smaller venues, The Berlin Club was a venue we used to pack and also Club Atlantis by Observation City right by the Scarborough beach we packed out for some of our CD launches. None of these venues are around anymore.”
“Berlin Club on the ‘Destitution’ video shoot was the best I think,” Campo agrees. “Any show there was great.”
With the band also headlining their own shows, a lot of Perth bands were handed the opportunity to play on the same bill and these bands developed an almost cult following. Thrombus, SFD, Rawkus, Rothgar, Storytime, iNFeCTeD and Mutt to mention just a few.
“I remember one band that seemed to always have our back was Rawkus,” Harrison recollects. “They were even touring over east when we were once, fun times. All those bands hold great memories for me. iNFeCTeD of course was fronted by my buddy Joey K and he actually designed many of our old flyers and demo covers that you now see up on the net.”
iNFeCTeD went onto release the album Crawlspace, which was actually re-released in 2009 due to demand.
Campo reflects, “I personally spent a lot of time with SFD, Storytime and Hateman Tribe amongst others. We were good friends so any of those bands would be great to see again.”
“Rothgar were another one, they were so young like a speed power metal thing before it became big . They ended up in another band that got signed to Roadrunner but I reckon if they stuck at it they would be all over Europe haha. SFD and Storytime were also good friends”, Harrison says.
Life after Allegiance has moved on for all members, with Harrison playing bass in Perth band Black Steel for a while.
“That’s another band that I see out of print CDs getting crazy prices especially in Euro; we had a few of our released licensed over there. I am pretty busy running my businesses like Heavy Metal Merchant and other projects, I have always been involved in the business side of things, so that is my primary focus these days but that band is active on the net at least I think there is a website and stuff up and running. Good friends with all those guys even to this day.”
For Campo, it seems he has moved on from the frenetic pace of Allegiance, but offers hope.
“Musicwise I’m not very active. I’m the occasional guitar tech for bands. I have been a tech for Zakk Wylde, Breed 77 and Andy Sneap’s Hell. I live on a boat in central London with my long time girl and our Labrador. I spend summers in our house in the Italian alps. I think about playing now and then but the passion isn’t there. I spent my teen years till my 30s with the Allegiance guys so a change was needed. I would as I said before love to play our songs again, but as I’m in London it makes it difficult. I have pretty much lost contact with them since I moved in 2001. You never know though. Never say never.”
It seems everyone has their own recollection of Allegiance (even the band members). Hopefully putting the name out their again and an eventual digital release of the 1994 killer album D.E.S.T.I.T.U.T.I.O.N may inspire the band to again grace the stage. Until then – hop on board the Facebook page and reminisce about one of the most important bands in the history of Australian metal.