On February 9 2008, Behind Crimson Eyes faced their trial by fire. The Melbourne five piece went on stage at Sydney’s Acer Arena and delivered a short set of melodic post-hardcore to 17,000 Iron Maiden fans.
It did not go well.
“We sort of thought it was a bit of a joke at the start,” says vocalist Josh Stuart about the offer from the British metal legends to play on three shows of their Aussie tour. “We didn’t really believe that they would want a band from a totally different kind of genre to play with them.”
Needless to say, the crowd that night – and the two nights that followed – certainly didn’t. Even throwing a cover of ‘Ace of Spades’ into their set didn’t help. Everyone hated them.
“We were really in the lion’s den that night,” Stuart recalls with a wry laugh. “Especially the first night. We were in the way of 17,000 people waiting to see their favourite band that hadn’t toured for 15 years!”
It was a lesson in humility following huge shows of support during the Big Day Out less than a month earlier. Ten years later Stuart can look back at those shows with a different perspective.
“If I say I’m in a band called Behind Crimson Eyes,” he says, “there will be people who haven’t heard of us. But when I say we played with Iron Maiden… everyone knows who Iron Maiden are!”
Stuart and Behind Crimson Eyes also took a different perspective when they came back to being a band after a five year break. Reintroducing themselves at a Unify sideshow with Alexisonfire in 2017, the next step was writing new material. Together, they worked out a fresh approach to their band and their music.
“We didn’t want to be the band trying to recreate past glories, because that can be a little sad – you’ve had a bit of success and now you’re trying for round two. When we decided we were going to write some music, we set out a mission statement for what we wanted to achieve out of it. It came back to just trying to inspire people to make a positive impact on the world.”
“It sounds a little cheesy,” the singer admits, “but we figure that, whatever platform we have, when we come back, we hope that it inspires those listening to make this world a little better. That was our intention.”
The band’s comeback tune ‘Stardust’ was released in late 2017, preceded by an introductory spoken word piece that expounds the themes of the song. It’s a motif that Behind Crimson Eyes have continued with the follow-up single ‘Say Bad Things’.
“As part of our vision, we were coming up with ideas about how to realise that vision,” Stuart explains. “One of them was working with academics and public speakers and podcasters and authors on producing what would be foreword to each song. So there was a foreword to ‘Stardust’ which came out a week before the song. That was a monologue encapsulating the ideas of the song. ‘Stardust’ was about cherishing the life we have over the potential of the existence or non-existence of an afterlife.”
Stuart goes on to show how the band expanded their ethical vision even further by sharing the proceeds of their endeavours with charity organisations. 25% of their sales profit from ‘Stardust’ was donated to the Cancer Council and they’ve pledged a similar amount to groups supporting the victims of sexual violence with their latest release.
“(Cancer) is something that impacts a lot of people’s lives. It actually impacted one of the guys in the band while we were recording. His father passed away while we were recording the song. So we wanted to acknowledge that, and also the Dementia Research Foundation. It’s all centering on the quality of life. We moved that on to the current song, ‘Say Bad Things’, to sexual assault victims and survivors.”
Stuart admits that the band debated whether to make a big deal out of their philanthropy in case it was seen as a cynical publicity move. But in the end they decided that it was more important to them to ensure people got involved in the cause.
“We’re not young guys now,” Stuart continues. “Over those ten years a lot of things change. A couple of the guys have young children now, people pass away… you start to value life a little bit more. You’re a little less reckless than you were in your younger days. That gives you perspective and you start to think, ‘Well, I have a platform where I can reach ten people or a thousand people or hundreds of thousands, so why not use that to try to inspire people to make a positive impact on the world’.”
Their plans appear to be coming together extremely well. Behind Crimson Eyes made a huge live return at this month’s Unify Gathering and ‘Stardust’ has become their most popular tune ever on Spotify.
“We didn’t have any expectations, because we had been away for so long,” Josh Stuart says. “So we didn’t know how it was going to be perceived, but the reactions that we’ve had have been super positive, so that’s been amazing. The message is getting out there and the objective is working.”