Taramis were one of the very early contenders on the Australian metal scene in the 1980s, and just like other early local groups like Nothing Sacred, Taipan and Mortal Sin, it could be argued that their existence laid the foundations of the Australian scene as we know it today. Taramis’ debut album Queen of Thieves was one of the first Aussie metal releases to get an overseas release, making a lot of people turn on to what our metal contingent had in store at the time.

With help from frontman Joel Southby, Liam Guy brings you a detailed retrospective on the days of Taramis.

Taramis began life as an Iron Maiden cover band called Prowler. The group’s founders were guitarist Craig Robertson and bassist Danny Komorr.

Southby recalls: “Prowler started in around 1981 and was really the result of Craig and Danny’s singer not turning up for rehearsal one day. I used to go to school with Craig and Danny and I’d go and watch their band rehearse at the local hall. One day when their singer didn’t turn up they asked if I wanted to fill in, as I knew all the songs from watching them rehearse. They told the singer not to come back and we started getting semi-serious quite quickly.

“We advertised for a drummer who was into Maiden and Manowar, and we found Joe Cordina. At the same time we also brought in a second guitarist Mick Lights, but he was tone deaf and went on to be our stage and tour manager. Our first gig was a battle of the bands at an RSL dinner night and when we come on and play Maiden covers I don’t think all the families and oldies having dinner knew what hit them. After our first gig we were hooked!”

In the two years that followed, Prowler decided to ditch the Iron Maiden to work on original material – this resulted in the five-track “Blood and Honour” demo being recorded in 1983. Cordina soon left the group, to be replaced by ex-Heresy/Nothing Sacred drummer Dave Browne. It was at this time Prowler’s music began to take a different direction.

“At this time we were huge into bands like Fates Warning and this was really where our influences were coming from. We knew of Dave Browne playing with Nothing Sacred and had just heard that he had left – we hit it off straight away. Dave then said he hated the name Prowler and we told him we were thinking of changing it; we had a song called Riders of Taramis and Greta from Metal for Melbourne suggested we change our name to Taramis. Dave’s playing was really the start of us introducing different influences.”

I asked Joel about what it was like working with Browne during his time with Taramis: “Dave was an amazing drummer. He studied and practiced and always wanted to better his playing. I also used to say to him ‘If you weren’t beating drums, Dave, you would be beating something else!’ He loved Rush, Yes, Zappa and Virgil Donati, all the-well respected and admired drummers. I used to love being on stage and watching him through a whole show.”

It was around 1986 when Prowler re-introduced themselves as Taramis. The band’s new sound incorporated elements of thrash metal and progressive influences from Rush and Fates Warning – a completely new sound in the Australian scene at the time. The group recorded their debut album Queen of Thieves which was released the following year, immediately attracting the attention of Metal Blade Records.

“Central Station Records who we released the album through in Australia took it to MIDEM [March€ International du Disque et de l’Edition Musicale – the world’s largest music industry conference held in Cannes, France] and they shopped it around and there were a few interested labels and Metal Blade were certainly offering the best deal.

“We were so blown away when the Metal Blade deal came about – to think we were being released in the US and Europe and on the same label as Fates Warning! We had some really great reviews and some really bad ones too – I think Kerrang gave the album two stars but we still had some positives. The album sold okay, and it really drew a lot of attention to Australia while Mortal Sin were also doing some great things with their album too. Europe loved the album – it went into some of the charts in Greece, Belgium and some other countries. The enthusiasm of the metal fans over there was huge and we received some great letters and photos. I remember a guy whose girlfriend had knitted him a Taramis jumper!”

Queen of Thieves was a great first taste of what Taramis were capable. The album is eight tracks of heavy riffs, soaring vocal melodies and some very intricate rhythm work from Browne and Komorr. ‘Lord of the Blackfields’ is a fast-paced mammoth of an opener, with impressively high vocals from Southby and some very Maiden-esque guitar riffs, while ‘My Life’ is a brilliant slow number with an excellent chorus and scorching lead work, finishing off the album.

Not only did Taramis impress their audiences with Queen of Thieves, but also with their live performances. The band were tipped to play the support slot for Metallica’s first Australian tour in the mid 1980s, however the tour was cancelled after the death of Cliff Burton. On the local front however, some of Taramis’ biggest live highlights were the performances at the popular Metal for Melbourne concerts.

“I used to love the build-up to those shows. In those days there weren’t many overseas bands coming to Australia, not like now. So these were the biggest shows of the year. It was also great to be able to play for the under 18’s as most bands played in the pubs.

“Some of the real memorable shows were some of the local Melbourne shows we did when the night would evolve into something special. I remember one night when we ran out of songs to play and the crowd wanted us to come back and play more. We went on and played Rush, David Lee Roth, Maiden, Manowar and all sorts of stuff we were just jamming on.”

In 1989 however, line-up changes grounded the band to a halt, when Danny Komorr left the group. Komorr’s replacement was not found until found ten months later…

“Alan Thomas who did the Metal Show on RRR rang me one night to see if we had spoken to Evan Harris, who played in sort of Bon Jovi style band! I said ‘No’, and Allan said he was into all the same sort of music as us and we should give him a try. He came for rehearsal one afternoon and blew us all away. We had never seen someone play like he did… Amazing.”

With a new bassist in the ranks, the band set about the task of writing material for a new album. Not too soon after Evan Harris joined, however, Craig Robertson also left the band. George Larin from the Melbourne thrash metal group New Religion came in and took Robinson’s place. The band’s sophomore effort, Stretch of the Imagination was released in 1991.
Stretch of the Imagination was a step up in many facets in comparison to Queen of Thieves. The recording quality was a lot clearer, and the musicianship and songwriting had been taken up a notch. The band also made more use of their progressive rock influences in songs like ‘Maze of Glory’ and also took on a few experimental turns in the instrumental track ‘Jigaboo Boogie’. A film clip for the song ‘Dreaming’ was also released.

Stretch of the Imagination certainly gave us even more exposure overseas; it was a shame we couldn’t afford to go and tour there when we should have. The album actually sold better than Queen of Thieves as far as numbers go, and we received some great reviews.

“Rising Sun records did a lot of publicity for the album and we did a lot of interviews and promo work from Australia – it usually meant staying up to one in the morning waiting for a call from Germany or somewhere for radio station or magazine!

“The album was certainly a different style in some ways to Queen of Thieves, and to this day their are people who either love one or the other.”

After the release of Stretch of the Imagination Taramis performed some more shows around Australia, and also played support slots to Sepultura and Ian Gillan from Deep Purple. Material for a third Taramis album was in the works, but the group was winding down at this point due to member’s individual commitments. Taramis officially disbanded in 1993.

In January of 2009, drummer Dave Browne sadly passed away. In June, the members of Taramis regrouped to perform a one-off show in Melbourne. The show was performed as a tribute to Dave.

“It was something Dave would have liked to be a part of. I live in New Zealand now, and the boys were preparing for about eight weeks before the show. The biggest challenge was drummer Chris Philips learning the songs from both albums, and also Craig and Danny hadn’t played in a while and had a bit of learning to do. I arrived from New Zealand five days before the show and had a couple of rehearsals which were brilliant.

“The night of the show was an emotional one but was an amazing night; to catch up with a lot of people and bands and to have such a huge crowd was amazing! It was a really good feeling in the room. There were a few mistakes in the playing and I got a head cold that effected my voice which was a shame for it to happen on that night of all nights, but I have nothing but awesome memories of being up on stage with those guys again.

While many would’ve agreed that Taramis’ time as a band was finished before it was due, this performance would’ve served a greater form of a closing chapter for the band.

Taramis’ music still enjoys a cult following around the metal world today. Both Queen of Thieves and Stretch of the Imagination were reissued by the European metal label My Graveyard, and contain various bonus material from live concert videos to unreleased demos.