Back at the beginning of the month, Australian culture website Junkee posted an article examining the history of Australian heavy music. Criticism of the list on social media ranged from the mild to the damning, as could be expected. From our point of view, a website that deals in music like this on a daily basis, it was ok, but inadequate.
While there wasn’t anything inherently wrong with the bands on the list, suggesting that it was a History of Australian Heavy Music was disingenuous at worst and inaccurate at the very least, especially as most of the bands on the bottom third of the list are less than ten years into their careers. We get it – heavy music is enjoying a popularity in this country that it’s never seen in the past, but its heritage runs deep. Australia has been at the forefront of heavy music almost since it began. So here’s OUR version. It’s open for discussion, but no list like this is going to be complete or totally right. But we do think it’s better.
Featuring the inimitable Peter Wells, who would go on to form Rose Tattoo a few scant years later, and the vocals of Dave Tice, Buffalo were one of the heaviest bands to come of Australia in the early 70s and were the first (and only) Aussie act to be signed to Black Sabbath’s UK label Vertigo. Here’s why.
COLOURED BALLS: Human Being
If Buffalo were Australia’s Sabbath, the Coloured Balls were our Blue Cheer, leading the sharpie music scene under the guidance of Lobby Loyde (who would also play in Rose Tattoo for a while). Pure raw rock and sonic distortion all the way.
AC/DC: Let There Be Rock
AC/DC weren’t the first or the only Aussie band playing hard-edged rock and roll, but they were certainly the one that most crystalised the lessons of Chuck Berry and Little Richard into an over-amped power driven force. There are dozens of songs we could have included here, but this one was AC/DC’s message to the world and it’s so good we’ve also included the cover by Australia’s greatest punk upstarts the Hard Ons with Rollins on vox.
RADIO BIRDMAN: New Race
Whereas most Aussie bands at the time were looking to boogie and prog, Radio Birdman took their inspiration straight from guitarist Deniz Tek’s home in Michigan, a hard-edged garage rock that ignited an entire scene of its own, with them at the forefront.
ROSE TATTOO: Remedy
Rose Tattoo injected street level grit and grime into their hard-edged bar room blues rock, giving them a tougher sound than almost anyone. This harder-than-nails track from their legendary debut lent its name to rock writer Murray Engleheart’s long-running Drum Media column in the 90s.
THE ANGELS: Marseilles
The Angels added New Wave influences, a sense of theatrics and an almost literary lyrical sophistication to their boogie rock oeuvre, making them one of the biggest bands of the pub rock era. This early masterpiece is from their iconic second album.
MORTAL SIN: Voyage of the Disturbed
The first band to arise internationally from the embryonic Australian thrash metal scene, Mortal Sin toured the world with some of the biggest acts on the scene at the time, including opening for Metallica on their 1989 Aussie tour. This tale of the Challenger disaster is from their second album Face of Despair.
HOBBS ANGEL OF DEATH: Marie Antoinette
Melbourne’s thrash pioneers went directly to Europe to unleash their savage metal onslaught. Theirs had a darkness and danger that didn’t quite exist yet in other domestic thrash metal and this track is but one highlight from their groundbreaking debut.
MASSAPPEAL: Fun Again
Sydney’s punk rock explosion Massappeal were unequivocally one of the most extreme bands of their time, spearheading the country’s hardcore scene with a series of EPs and vinyls and chaotic live shows. They later went on to play the first Big Day Out, but here they are at the peak of extremity.
SADISTIK EXEKUTION: Agonising the Dead
Extremity was the reason for Sadistik Exekution’s entire existence – extreme heaviness, extreme speed, extreme violence, but underneath that insane veneer, a true menace lurked beneath the messy production of their first album.
MANTISSA: Land of the Living
Carrying on from a previous incarnation as Killing Time, Mantissa combined funky groove, metal riffs and a grunge sensibility, building a solid following that filled rooms around the country in the early 90s. We could have included almost any of their songs on this list.
diSEMBOWELMENT: A Burial at Ornans
The first and only full length statement from Melbourne’s diSEMBOWELMENT showed a deeply experimental form of extreme music that combined bursts of savage grind with long drawn out riffs, distorted vocals, chanting and eerie soundscapes like nothing before or since.
Damaged took the songwriting ethics of grind and the structure of death metal, put it through a blender with some hard rhyming vocal mayhem to create what was at the time the most extreme sound in Australia.
ALLEGIANCE: Chaos Dies
WA’s biggest metal export in the 1990s, Allegiance toured with everyone in the middle of the decade. They were first true Aussie metal band to be attached to a major label and tour nationally with the Big Day Out. This track opens their 1994 debut album.
TUMBLEWEED: Daddy Long Legs
Seemingly everyone’s darlings, Tumbleweed were everywhere in the 90s from beer barns to multi-day festivals. They weren’t the heaviest but their psychedelic drenched riffmongering won them fans from almost every quarter and they opened for Nirvana on that band’s only Aussie tour and this song remains a perennial favourite. Check out that riff.
ARMOURED ANGEL: Enigmatize
Formed in Canberra in the mid-80s, Armoured Angel had developed a dense, crushing, slow-paced death metal style by the mid-90s, by which time they were well-deserved leaders of the domestic extreme metal scene, courted by major labels and appearing at the Big Day Out. ‘Enigmatize’ is a typical extreme of their bulldozing, heads-down metal.
Really, any discussion of heavy rock in Australia that doesn’t include Silverchair is moot. Eventually moving away from the derivative grunge of their debut to a sophisticated pop later on, in the early days the teen trio chugged their way through Seattle-style heavy riffing and attitude.
THE MARK OF CAIN: First Time
If their was ever a band to epitomise the frustration, despair, anger and isolation of the human condition, it is The Mark of Cain. One of the tightest and hardest-hitting bands of all time, Rollins’ production on their third full-length album took them to the next level.
NITOCRIS: Haemorrhaging Souls
Sydney’s Nitocris blended punk, metal, grunge and rock into a high-octane high energy heavy rock that blazed its way across venues all over the city for most of the 90s. This is a live version of the ripper that closes their debut album.
ALCHEMIST: Chinese Whispers
Death metal innovators Alchemist wrote their names into the local metal history books with expansive, experimental songs that stretched the boundaries of the genre and set them up with an international cult following for their wildly progressive music, like this opener from their third album.
SEGRESSION: Anti-Violence Indicator
Evolving from the dominant groove metal style of the time, Segression was one of the first bands to popularise the emerging nu-metal genre on the Australian live scene. Fifth of the Fifth was the turning point for their sound, featuring this track that became a live favourite as they built a name nationally in the late 90s.
DUNGEON: Lost in the Light
While most of the scene’s more prominent bands were playing thrash, death or groove metal, Dungeon were filling rooms with trad-style metal inspired by 80s giants like Priest and Maiden. Later evolving into LORD, this track is the perfect example of the band’s epic style that took them around the world.
HENRY’S ANGER: Personality Test
Another band who threw themselves into the alterna-metal/nu-metal phenomenon, Canberra unit Henry’s Anger scored an ARIA nomination for their second album, setting them up for a solid couple of years of heavy touring and big time support shows and festival dates.
CRYOGENIC: Fall On
Sydney’s Cryogenic stamped their authority on the local scene in the late 90s with a heavy groove that took its cues from contemporary heroes Pantera. They played the Big Day Out three times and their 2000 national triple bill tour (with Alchemist and Psi.Kore) was one of the first of its kind.
BLOOD DUSTER: Pornstorestiffi
One of Australia’s greatest larrikin bands, Blood Duster combined groove, death, grind and humour in a way unlike any other band on this or any other scene. This track features a rare five piece version of the band, parodying the proliferation of nu-metal bands at the time. They called the album Cunt, because they simply didn’t care who got offended.
Superheist spent the first five years of their career developing their style from a grinding death to polished metal to the bouncing nu-metal that gave them their commercial breakthrough. “Pulse” is from 8 Miles High, where the band’s new musical vision began to crystalise and put them into the alternative charts.
DREADNAUGHT: Dead in the Dirt
Dreadnaught are and always have been one of Australia’s best heavy bands. Groove metal, thrash, prog and blues-edged hard rock, they’ve shown themselves to be masters of it all. If you don’t agree that this is just one hell of a great track, you need further educating.
SUNK LOTO: Make You Feel
Gold Coast teenagers Sunk Loto arrived at the peak of nu-metal with a rap-infused take something like a cross between RATM and Deftones. They hit the charts immediately with big label backing and where everywhere for the next couple of years.
THE BERZERKER: No One Wins
The Berzerker took extremity to new levels of extremity, mixing ridiculous speed, samples and grindcore with absurd masks and complete anonymity (at least for a while). They eventually settled down to become a reasonably standard death/grind act but here they were completely off-chart.
THE BUTTERFLY EFFECT: One Second of Insanity
The Butterfly Effect exploded onto the early 00s music scene with their energetic and progressive heavy rock. This track off their debut album made them the darlings of alternative radio and became the first of a string of Triple J Hottest 100 entries for them.
DAYSEND: Born is the Enemy
Exploding out of Sydney in the early 00s with a modern metal sound and old school influences, Daysend were another strong entrant in the metal stakes as they toured relentlessly both as headliners and dependable support act. This is their best known cut, the opener to their 2004 debut album.
Born out of a cover band playing parties in Perth, Karnivool quickly ascended to the top of the country’s heavy rock pile with a sound and style that was spot-on for the time, one which they can continue to mould and sculpt with each subsequent release.
I KILLED THE PROM QUEEN: Sharks in Your Mouth
Pilloried by the traditionalists and loved by the new wave of fans, Prom Queen pretty much had the local metalcore scene sown up in the mid-00s. While they couldn’t keep it together for long, their 2006 album remains a landmark for both the band and their scene they inspired.
PARKWAY DRIVE: Sleepwalker
No longer needing any introduction, Parkway Drive have worked their way from a school hall in Byron Bay to the biggest metal band ever to come from this country. By their third album, Deep Blue, they had gone from up and comers to major contenders, and began to address social and political issues more avidly.
THE AMITY AFFLICTION: Youngbloods
Graduating from the SE Queensland underground with a mix of melodic metalcore and post-hardcore emo, The Amity Affliction have become one of the country’s most in-demand bands. Youngbloods was their first ARIA top 10 entry and established their musical formula that has now scored four consecutive #1 albums.
PSYCROPTIC: Carriers of the Plague
Psycroptic are true masters of technical death metal. Constant international touring has made them a consistently excellent live force and each album sees them going from strength to strength as one of Australia’s greatest ever extreme metal bands.
NE OBLIVISCARIS: And Plague Flowers the Kaleidoscope
Ne O’s elaborate, multi-textured progressive metal has been praised as much as it has been accused of being pretentious wankery. Either way, their tenacity and extraordinary self-belief has gathered them a significant international following for their epic musical journeys.
NORTHLANE: Quantum Flux
With their forward-thinking take on metalcore, Northlane have now become one of the biggest of Australia’s growing crop of heavy acts. Their break-out second album saw them enter the ARIA chart at #3 and marked the beginning of their ascension, as well as interest from international audiences.
Demented Brisbane entity Portal create some of the most dissonant and disturbing extreme music of any kind. Deliberately obscure, their miasmic, apparently structureless death metal sounds like it has escaped from the sort of nightmare depicted in the video for that track from the Vexovoid album.
KING PARROT: Ten Pounds of Shit in a Five Pound Bag
Combining sharp, sardonic lyrics, lightning-fast playing and a truly berzerk stage act, King Parrot have become worldwide names for their larrikin humour and blitzkrieg grind assault.
HIGH TENSION: Rise
Heavy, intense and ascerbic, Melbourne collective High Tension are a melting pot of styles from across the extreme landscape fronted by a high energy hell demon. The band’s 2018 album was a brutal and emotional concept album about the Communist purge in Indonesia that stepped up their already fearsome assault to another level.
CALIGULA’S HORSE: Will’s Song (Let the Colours Run)
Already well-acclaimed as one of the beacons lighting the Australian progressive metal scene, Caligula’s Horse outdid themselves with their fourth album, a stunning four-part concept album from which this track is taken.
Another band from the cornucopia of interesting bands that is Perth, Voyager mix melodic progressive metal with synth-driven 80s New Wave. It’s a completely unique style that has begun to win them huge kudos in Australia after being well known overseas for years. This is the first single off their forthcoming album (their 7th!)
As huge as this list is, it’s really just scratching the surface and there’s a lot we left out, but we couldn’t keep adding bands forever. Australia has one of the largest and most dynamic heavy music scenes in the world, whether one’s taste is metal, hardcore or the myriad of sub-genres and off-shoots that seem to spring up every few months. We are world leaders in music of all kinds. This group of bands is proof.